Solo Sandeng, Gambia oposition member died in detention for protesting against electoral reform.
Solo Sandeng leading the protest on Thursday.

(JollofNews) – The United States has condemned the Gambia’s “severe response to recent peaceful protests” which led to the arrest and detention of opposition members and the death in custody of one of them, Solo Sandeng.

“We call for an immediate end to violence and urge all Gambians to exercise restraint and remain calm,” said John Kirby, assistant secretary and department spokesperson at the US Bureau of Public Affairs.

“The United States calls on the Government of the Gambia to uphold its international obligations under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right to peaceful assembly,” Kirby said in a statement on Sunday.

Members of the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) led by Sandeng on Thursday gathered at Westfield Junction in a peaceful protest, calling for electoral reforms ahead of the December presidential elections.

The protesters were arrested and are still in detention.

Yesterday, their party leader, Ousainou Darboe confirmed the dead of Mr Sandeng at a press conference at his residence.

Minutes later, Darboe led his party executive and supporters in a peaceful protest demanding the release of Sandeng’s body whether “death or alive.”

“These people have done nothing wrong. They have exercised their constitutional right and that constitutional right we are now going to exercise,” Darboe told journalists.

“We are going out there to ask for Solo’s body to be given to us. We are going to ask for Madam Fatoumata Jawara and the rest to be released.”

“We are not going to allow anyone to trample on our rights on the pretext you want to maintain security and stability in this country,” Darboe said.

Gambia opposition UDP protest
UDP Leader Ousainou Darboe, fourth from the right, leading protest on Saturday.

But soon as they began walking towards Kairaba police station and chanting the slogan, “we need Solo dead or alive,” they were met by security forces armed with assault rifles who fired tear gas at the protesters, according to eyewitnesses.

Darboe and 15 other members of the party were arrested and are in detention, according to the UDP. The detention of two more members of the UDP is still unconfirmed.

The Gambian opposition has been calling for electoral reforms but President Yahya Jammeh’s government and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) ignored the call.

Gambia’s current electoral system gives Jammeh an unfair advantage over the use of state resources such as the national broadcaster, Gambia Radio and Television Services.

He uses the security forces to intimidated  opposition candidates and supporters and civil servants are forced to display loyalty to the ruling party.

The regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) refused to send observers to monitor the 2011 election in which Jammeh won a fourth term.