By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia Police Force has been very busy detaining and questioning citizens in the week after the announcement of the “avoidable” death of at least 69 children from contaminated cough syrup in early October 2022. The busy week started on Friday 7th October 2022 when Police dispersed mourners of children killed by Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) which the World Health Organization announced were caused by four brands of contaminated cough syrups from the Indian company, Maiden Pharmaceuticals.
Speaking with Nenneh Freda Gomez, she explained that when the Police came “they asked for Nenneh and Madi Jobarteh specifically, by then Madi was busy doing an interview with journalists” so she spoke to the Police. According to Nenneh, Police informed them that they were instructed to “quickly come to Westfield because there is a group of people who are causing a disturbance”. Eventually, after some back and forth some of her fellow advocates engaged the police and the mourners for the vigil were eventually dispersed.
Two days later the group of mourners held a press conference on Sunday 9th October 2022 demanding the Government take action on those responsible for the death of the 69 children. Three other institutions namely the Gambia Bar Association, the Female Lawyers Association of the Gambia and the National Human Rights Commission have also urged the government to take legal action against all persons responsible for the tragic death of the 69 children.
In a press release published on Tuesday 11th October 2022, the Police highlighted that from the total “of 50,000 bottles of contaminated baby syrups, 41,462 bottles have been quarantined/ seized by MCA, and 8,538 bottles remained unaccounted for”.
Ms Gomez also narrated how she and her colleagues set to host a press conference tomorrow 14th October 2022 on the 69 children who were called for questioning by Police earlier this week. According to Ms Gomez Police also called three of her colleagues namely; Madi Jobarteh, Ndey Fatima Jammeh and MC Cham who are all scheduled to speak at tomorrow’s press conference. In her view, it appears that Police may have gotten hold of the press conference agenda and decided to question the persons identified to speak tomorrow.
Comedian Charged with Incitement of Violence
Earlier this week a comedian known as Muhammed Darboe was detained for three days and questioned by the Police for comments made on Facebook live. According to a news report by the Fatu Network, Police Spokesperson Binta Njie confirmed that Darboe “is charged with incitement of violence for now”. Advocates such as Citizen Journalist Kexx Sanneh and Journalist Omar Wally attempted to visit Mr Darboe but were refused access.
According to a social media post by Kexx, when he went to visit Mr Darboe at Anti-Crime Unit he was told by two officers to go visit “the SIS at Kairaba if we want to see Muhammad, not the Anti-Crime Unit where he is detained”. A defiant Kexx explained that he “had a bitter exchange regarding the legality of the denial of the visit”. However, Ms Gomez managed to visit Mr Darboe and demonstrated her disagreement with his condition in jail.
According to Ms Gomez she visited Muhammed Darboe “at Anti-Crime, they put him inside a cell, he was sleeping on the faeces and everything. There was no light, the cell is dark”. Reacting to this she demanded that he be afforded better treatment while in jail. According to her Police argued that the ceiling is low which is why they have not put in lights and fans to avoid shocking detainees. In response, Ms Gomez argued that “you say you’re trying to save them from harming themselves but you guys are subjecting them to more harm”. She said that more than 10 people were inside the cell in hellish conditions with urine, faeces, poor ventilation and poor lighting conditions. Her insistence paid off when Muhammed was afforded some two hours out of the cell. Mr Darboe was eventually bailed after 72 hours.
Coalition of Progressive Gambians Press Conference
Another group known as the Coalition of Progressive Gambians are also scheduled to hold a press conference today, 13th October 2022 on the “avoidable deaths of 69 children”. In their invitation inviting all CSOs and the general public, their statement notes that “the campaign is an effort to exercise their rights and role to seek justice and fight against corruption by bringing government to accountability”.
In another incident which may be unrelated, a flyer was being distributed on Whatsapp with the caption “Act 2 Defend Our Children” and calling for a nationwide protest today 13th October 2022 from 8 am. However, this has not been confirmed to take place.
With the Police insisting on dispersing peaceful assemblies such as vigils and calling conference speakers for questioning it appears that the Police and citizens may be heading towards a head-on collision. The Gambia’s Public Order Act gives Police the discretion to grant permits to persons seeking to peacefully assemble, display banners and use loudspeakers. However, the Gambia’s Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission has called for the National Assembly to review the legislation on peaceful assembly to bring it in line with international human rights standards.
The TRRC Report which has been accepted in the Government’s White Paper also recommends for Police generally and the Police Intervention Unit specifically to undergo training to better protect the rights of citizens during peaceful assembly.