Sunday, September 30, 2012

What is wrong with the right to assemble and demonstrate in The Gambia?

Baboucarr Ceesay: “One would wonder what are the sources of all these charges and what are they meant for people who only apply for permit to hold a demonstration against the execution of the nine death row inmates.”
Since our arrest, my colleague, Abubacarr Saidykhan and I have been treated like common criminal, despite all the manifestation of being law abiding by applying for permit for a demonstration which we could have held clandestinely. We say no to a clandestine demo and delivered our application which we co-signed.

The police who held us for the democratic exercise should have questioned the legality of arresting us rather than treating us like common criminals – arresting us without telling us the crime we have committed in a language we understand within three hours as the constitution requires. We were also detained more than the 72 hours limit for detention. 

Each of us was rotated between different cells in different police stations, Kotu, Brusubi and Banjul.

When Saidykhan was detained at Kotu, I was at Brusubi. When I was caged at Banjul he was kept at Brusubi, and when he was taken to Banjul I was taken to Kotu.

The worst thing about all this is that we are still reporting to the police and our passports were seized by the police thinking that we will abscond after providing a Gambian surety each with a bail bond of D250,000 each.

For the fact that we are not criminals, we choose no turbulent weapon but the pen as journalists, who believe in inking the truth without fear or favour, affection or ill will.
When I explained my ordeal to an elderly friend who is an erudite African thinker, he told me without pondering: “The state and the Inspector General of Police should have awarded you and Saidykhan with a Nobel Peace Prize for your action, but sad that you were deceived with arrest, detention and criminal charges.”

Imagine we were put in cells of halitosis – smelling with human urine, with angry mosquitoes that bite as if they have ‘Dutch Courage.’ It was only at Banjul that we could take birth. The cell at Brusubi police station only permits one to sit till day break or lie down on the wet floor. The Kotu cell has a piece of carton measuring about two by four feet, which even a toddler cannot lie on.

At the Banjul cell, we found four young men who were theft suspects, the other one with a swollen hand alleged torture by men of the Operation Bulldozer.A police inspector who sympathized with the young man’s situation called a junior officer to escort him to get medicine.

We found a soft spoken and an elderly religious man in the Banjul cell. He is a senior official at the Gambia Printing and Production Cooperation (GPPC) and a family man. He alleged he was arrested without being told the reason of his arrest.

What is ridiculous about the whole scenario is the repetition of the word “Order’. I had to tell one of the officers: “I wish this order is a physical being, I would exterminate it from the surface of this earth, as it is making you to arbitrarily arrest people.”

Anytime they separate us to be taken to our various cells Saidykhan always asked my whereabouts. And when I am also dropped first, I asked where they are taking him. 

Because the whereabouts of the first to be dropped at a police station is known by the second person taken to a remote station, but the former will not know where the latter is being taken to.

Saidykhan would sometimes remind the officers about how Chief Ebrima Manneh disappeared in thin air. A taboo to ears.

The uncomfortable truth is that we are not common criminals and do not deserved to be treated as criminals. The police should have earlier approved or reject our application and not arrest, detain and charge us, as they did.

We were first charged with ‘incitement to violence’ but later told that it was dropped and replaced with ‘conspiracy to commit felony’ and on Wednesday, 20 September my charge was beefed up with ‘seditious intention’, making it two counts.

When we return on Friday, 22 September for our normal reporting, we were informed that our previous charge of ‘incitement to violence’ still stands. Which means that I am charged with three counts: incitement to violence, conspiracy to commit felony and seditious intention while Saidykhan gets two counts: incitement to violence and conspiracy to commit felony.

One would wonder what are the sources of all these charges and what are they meant for people who only apply for permit to hold a demonstration against the execution of the nine death row inmates.

There are people who believe that it should but also appealed to the President to suspend and see whether the rate of murder cases will increase or decrease. For us we believe that it should be halted and further abolished.

What crime have we committed? What is wrong with the right to assemble and demonstrate in the Gambian constitution?

Time will tell. You can arrest, detain and charge ambassadors of truth but you cannot exorcise truth from the face of the this earth, as the truths shall prevail and is only the truth that shall make us free.

Source: Gambia Dispatch

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