By Gainako’s Banjul Correspondent
On the 14th of April 2016, members of The Gambia’s Opposition staged a peaceful protest for Electoral Reforms in the build-up to December’s 2016 Presidential Elections. The protest was attended by protesters of different opposition parties who gathered at Bamboo Road in Serrekunda. The growing crowd began chanting for Electoral Reforms with banner displaying a sign reading “WE WANT PROPER ELECTORAL REFORMS”.
From midday the crowd began assembling at Bamboo road in Serrekunda and started marching towards Kanifing Municipal Council. Traffic was brought to a standstill as protesters blocked the Banjul-Serrekunda highway at Westfield. As the unarmed crowd arrived at the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC) headquarters at Westfield a truckload of Para Military and Armed Forces personnel together with Prison Officers intercepted the peaceful demonstration and began arresting them using brutal force.
Our reporter highlighted that PIU officers were seen beating up unarmed protesters with black police batons and forcing them to enter the truck. It’s alleged that hundreds of people were seen at Westfield Junction during the commotion which ensued when the PIU officers begun dispersing the crowd. Some Journalist were seen observing and documenting the incident as it unfolded. A reporter who was seen taking pictures was beaten by PIU officers who demanded him to surrender his mobile phone. The courageous journalist refused to comply and resisted arrest.
Up to 25 protestors were arrested and taken to the main Police Intervention Unit (PIU) office in Kanifing. Gainako understands that the majority of the arrested detainees were United Democratic Party (UDP) militants. It is also understood that UDP’s Youth Mobiliser and Party Executive Member, Solo Sandeng was arrested. Around 18:00 hrs Gambian time the hundred strong crowd had been dispersed and replaced with a heavy military presence at the scene.
A release signed by Alkali Konteh in the evening read “Earlier in the day we got news that some Gambian youths staged a peaceful civil protest at Westfield, Kanifing area. After 1 hour or so, the police PIU came on the scene and forcefully arrested some 20 protesters. These protesters come from different political background and their demands are very simple and legitimate. Such as Electoral and political reforms. Bearing in mind that peaceful protest/demonstrations is guaranteed by Gambian secular constitution. We therefore demand the unconditional release of all the protesters arrested. We also urge the authorities to respect the Constitutional rights of those arrested and this includes the non-use of torture and other inhumane treatment. We understand that some of the men and women arrested are elderly and they may have medical conditions. They are only passionate about seeing a Gambia that follows international norms and standards. And the women particularly should all be release immediately. Since they do not pose any risk or threat to the security of the state. Finally we urge the authorities to desist from their usual use of force to disperse a peaceful assembly of Gambians. The world is watching the Gambia.”
A message from a concerned Gambian reads “The opposition leaders should convene an emergency meeting among themselves to discuss the incident with a view to elevate demands for electoral reforms. The [Opposition] must raise their concern on the use of force against peaceful demonstration and arrest of opposition figures months before the election. They must issue a statement and submit to the IEC and the government and our development partners and foreign missions inside and outside the country. The opposition must not let this incident pass on silently. The demonstration is for electoral reform which the opposition has been calling. Thus the leaders have a moral responsibility to address the case of these demonstrators. They must demonstrate leadership.”
Meanwhile, the President Yahya Jammeh who has ruled the country with iron fist and is poised to contest for his 5th five year term is out of the country attending the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Ankara Turkey. Unconfirmed reports has it that the President has cut short his trip and is flying back to the country as we go to press. The political tension has been brewing in the tiny West African country as economic and political conditions become harder on the citizens. The president abruptly closed the country’s border with Senegal which is ongoing for over two months. The economic conditions are getting harder on the ordinary person and citizens are increasingly frustrated. The protesters are demanding electoral reform before this year’s Presidential elections in December 2016. The opposition has earlier written to the IEC demanding electoral reform: The IEC ignored the demands and did not even bother to respond to the opposition. Like other African countries ruled by dictators, the Gambian people appears fed up with the political oppression and are beginning to demand change through peaceful means. Gainako staff will closely monitor the situation and update our readers on developments.