Arrest and Detention by the Police Must be Necessary and in line with Human Rights

Since the group of youths including Raptivist Killa Ace were arrested and detained and then released on bailed on Monday August 19 they are yet to appear before any court of law. Rather they have been asked to be reporting to police almost daily even though they had security for the bail. The purpose of the bail bond is to ensure that the suspects do not flee and to appear when they are needed by the police. Therefore, what is the rationale for the daily reporting? This is yet another malpractice of the Dictatorship that must stop!

We must demand that the police demonstrate the highest level of professionalism, efficiency and transparency when they do their work in the interest of safeguarding human rights as well as ensuring public trust and confidence in the police itself. The arrest of these citizens did not show that the Anti-Crime Unit has done due diligence hence their actions were unprofessional and lack transparency. The fact that the police would arrest these youths on a Friday only to keep them under detention over the weekend until Monday and still unable to take them before a court of law indicates poor judgement and unprofessionalism.

To subject a citizen to arrest and detention is a major experience that directly impacts on the rights and dignity of that individual regardless of the crime he or she committed. Hence when the police are ready to arrest a citizen, they must ensure that indeed there is adequate reason to do so. This is why Section 19 of the Constitution stipulates that anyone arrested must be informed immediately or in any case within three hours the reasons for the arrest in the language the person understands. This means the Constitution is contemplating that the police should only arrest when they indeed know the reason for the arrest.

Furthermore, the Constitution stipulates in the same provision that a person detained should be immediately taken before a court of law but where this is not reasonably practicable the detention cannot exceed 72 hours. Hence what the Constitution prefers here also is to limit the duration of detention thereby making sure that the police are seen to be doing their work, diligently and efficiently. Therefore, why arrest over the weekend when you will not be putting the suspect before a court on Monday?

Since Monday these youths are reporting to the police. Why are they not charged and taken to court? In fact, the Serre Kunda protests took place since July 24 when the home of ACU Commander and Bakoteh police station were burnt down. One would have expected that the police would have arrested suspects since that very day. Unfortunately, this was not the case even though there were police officers and witnesses present at the scene on that fateful day!

This raises a further question as to what the police or the Anti-Crime Unit was doing between July 24 and August 17 amounting to 25 days. Were they conducting any investigation or not? If they were indeed investigating, then it means by the time they arrest anyone then they would have been ready to take the matter immediately to court. It should not be expected that they would arrest people 25 days after the incident and still claim to be investigating hence fail to take them to court immediately.

Another concerning phenomenon about this case is the practice of transferring detainees from one police station to another and also separating them. What is the purpose of these transfers and separation? Isn’t this the same practice under the Jammeh Dictatorship just to further intimidate citizens and therefore violate human rights? The police is not a criminal organization but a human rights protection agency whose every decision and action must be seen to uphold the values and standards of human rights. The police must not harangue or criminalise citizens for any reason!

The Gambia Police Force must not take it that just because the law empowers them to prevent crime and apprehend and detain suspects therefore they have a freehand to just arrest anyone anytime and detain for 72 hours even if not necessary and then subject that person to bail so that he would be reporting to police unendingly. This practice does not indicate professionalism and efficiency and certainly undermines the protection of human rights hence erodes public trust and confidence in the police.

The Gambia Constitution anticipates that anyone arrested to be quickly informed of the reason for the arrest and immediately taken before a court. The incidence of detention and bail should be severely reviewed such that when it happens it must be absolutely necessary by all accounts. Unfortunately, the Gambia Police Force is not operating on these basic norms of human rights and the rule of law.

Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens who are under arrest to have access to their lawyers and family. In the arrest of Killa Ace and Co the police have done all they could to deny, delay and derail efforts to make Killa Ace access his lawyer immediately. This is unconstitutional and unlawful and a clear violation of the rights of suspects. Such dictatorial practices should have ended in the Gambia since 19 January 2019!

Therefore, I call on the IGP to step up and stop his men and women from abusing the rights of Gambians by ensuring that arrests and detentions are indeed necessary and productive. Arrest and detention carry stigma in our society hence the police must not find it entertaining to just arrest anyone anytime and then detain anyhow. They must exercise extreme due diligence and professionalism before they act.

For The Gambia Our Homeland

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Madi Jobarteh


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