Members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), army, military police and police unlawfully arrested and detained suspected opponents of the government. Among those unlawfully held were human rights defenders, journalists, former security personnel and opposition leaders. At least two journalists were forced to flee the country. Three judges were unconstitutionally removed by the President and then later reinstated. The government ignored a ruling by a regional court to release the missing journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh.
Enforced disappearances and unlawful killings
- In July the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (CCJ) ordered the Gambian government to release Chief Ebrima Manneh, a former reporter from the Daily Observer arrested in 2006, and pay him US$100,000. The government ignored the ruling and continued to deny that he was in their custody.
- The fate of Kanyiba Kanyie, an opposition supporter arrested in September 2006, remained unknown as the government continued to deny knowledge of his whereabouts. A former detainee who was held with Kanyiba Kanyie in Mile 2 prison in 2007 stated that he was released in early 2007, but there was no further news of him.
Six other people remained disappeared, and it was feared that they may have been extrajudicially executed. They were Momodou Lamin Nyassi, Ndongo Mboob and Buba Sanyang, arrested in 2006, and Marcia Jammeh, Haruna Jammeh and Jisacha Kujabi, arrested in 2005.
"...President Yahya Jammeh threatened to expel or kill lesbian and gay people..."
There was no investigation during 2008 into the fate of five men, including former NIA Director General Daba Marena, initially arrested in connection with the March 2006 foiled coup plot. The men were alleged to have escaped during a prison transfer in April 2006. It was suspected that they had been extrajudicially executed.
ECOWAS and the UN formed a team to investigate the deaths of 55 foreigners allegedly killed unlawfully by Gambian security forces in 2005. The victims were 40 Ghanaians, 10 Nigerians, two Senegalese, one Togolese, one Congolese and one Ivorian. No results emerged by the end of 2008 and no suspects were brought to justice.
Detention without trial
A number of people were held in long-term detention without trial.
- At least two people arrested in connection with the March 2006 coup plot remained in detention. Neither Alieu Lowe, held without charge, nor Hamadi Sowe, charged with concealment of treason, had been tried by the end of the year.
- At least six other people were held in detention without charge, some for more than four years: Ismaila Bajinka and Kebba Secka (former members of the NIA), army sergeant Sam Kambai, army corporal Ebrima Joof, presidential cook Ebou Jarju, and police officer Alfusainey Jammeh.
At least 19 other people, including some foreign nationals from Senegal and Nigeria, were held without charge in Mile 2 prison maximum security cell, one for at least 12 years.
Freedom of expression – journalists
At least two journalists – Momodou Justice Darboe and Lamin Fatty – left the country following intimidation by the NIA and other government personnel. Journalists Yahya Dampha, Omar Bah, Pa Ousman Darboe, Musa Saidykhan, and Sulayman Makalo, previously in hiding in other West African countries, were granted asylum in Europe and the USA. Several journalists were arrested and detained without charge for longer than the 72 hours allowed by Gambian law, including journalists Dida Halake, Sam Obi, and Abdulgafari Oladimeji.
- Journalist Mam Ceit Ceesay was released in February after being held for four months without charge.
- In August, Fatou Jaw Manneh, a US-based Gambian journalist, was convicted of sedition in a trial that began in March 2007. She was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment with hard labour, but was allowed to pay a fine of 250,000 Dalasis (US$12,000) in lieu of imprisonment. Afterwards she left the country.
- The Today newspaper stopped publishing after the editor, Abdulhamid Adiamoh, a Nigerian, was convicted of failing to pay tax. He was also charged with sedition for writing about social conditions for children in Gambia. At the end of 2008 the trial was continuing.
- In December a British couple, David and Fiona Fulton, who had been living in Gambia for nine years, were arrested and charged with sedition.
The Independent newspaper’s premises remained under police surveillance and did not open for a second consecutive year.
Three judges were unconstitutionally removed from office. High Court Justice B.Y. Camara and Justice Haddy Roche were dismissed in July by an order of the President, and Justice Naceesay Sallah-Wadda in September. No official reason was given for the removal of the judges and no consultation took place with the Judicial Service Commission. All three judges were reinstated before the end of the year.
There were no developments in the unsolved murder of prominent journalist Deydra Hydara, killed in 2005.
At the end of 2008, there were 15 people on death row. The 1997 Constitution required the National Assembly to carry out a constitutional review of the death penalty within 10 years, with a view to abolishing it. The National Assembly again failed to carry out this review.
- Tambara Samba, a Senegalese woman sentenced to death for murder, lost her case on appeal in October.
- In November a police officer on trial since 2007 was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
In a speech in May, President Yahya Jammeh threatened to expel or kill lesbian and gay people. After that speech, at least three Gambian and two Spanish men were arrested on suspicion of same-sex sexual conduct. The government later retracted the President’s statement.
Article 144 of Gambia’s 1965 Criminal Code criminalizes homosexual conduct as an “unnatural offence” and provides for a prison sentence of up to 14 years, contrary to Gambia’s international human rights obligations.