The Legal Officer of the Banjul-based Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), Oludayo Faghemi, Friday scolded The Gambia government over the Public Order Act, which has often been used to restrict citizens rights to peaceful assembly.
“Public Order laws are being used to curtail the rights of persons to freedom of assembly in States such as The Gambia and Sierra Leone among others,” IHRDA’s official said in a joint statement that was also endorsed by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFK), and delivered before the ongoing 65th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACPHR).
Since the advent of the new democratic dispensation, Gambians have been enjoying greater freedom, punctuated with protests, demonstration. But campaigners have been calling out gov’t over the use of the Public Order Act by the Police to deny citizens their rights to peaceful protest.
Oludayo Faghemi explained that these laws contain provisions that necessitate the grant of permission by State agents before protests or demonstrations can take place. He then added: “Demonstrations that take place without this permission are deemed illegal, and can be dispersed, in most cases, with the use of excessive force.”
Adding his voice to the chorus of recriminations, the Focal Person for the West African Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN) used the platform of the ACHPR’s 65th Ordinary Session, which is being at Kairaba Beach Hotel, to sound the alarm bell over a “threat made by a government minister and Presidential Adviser at a political rally in Brikama” to quell possible protests that are reportedly scheduled to take place in December “to demand President Adama Barrow to respect and adhere to his political promise of 3 years.”
He called on Gambian authorities to “comply with the guidelines on freedom of association and assembly by opening the civic space for freedom and peaceful demonstration.”
In an attempt to set the record straight, the Senior Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of Interior, Kodou Njie, reminded the gathering that the country ‘s Fundamental Law guarantees the right to protest, adding that permits are issued by the Office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
She further stated that citizens have the rights to seek redress in courts when they have been denied permit.
The Interior Ministry’s official went on to say that Gambia is on a healing process, and the Police do deny permit to protest based on security reasons.
“But the majority of political parties requests are granted the rights to demonstration,” she emphasized.