A prominent Gambian human rights activist has called on the Gambia Government of President Adama Barrow and its supporters to nip in the bud threats to opposition supporters and critics.
Fatou Jagne-Senghor, the West Africa director of Article 19, a London-based pro-freedom of expression organisation, said during the 22-year rule of Ex-President Jammeh, the rights and freedoms of Gambians were severely violated and the Barrow administration should take all the necessary steps not to drag the Gambia back to the dark days of dictatorship.
President Adama Barrow is facing pressure from pro-democracy activists to respect a pledge he made while in opposition with a group of opposition parties to call fresh election in December 2019.
Seven opposition parties united behind Barrow in the run up to the 2016 polls, which enabled him to unseat long serving Yahya Jammeh who had ruled the Gambia for over two decades.
But despite his earlier promises to only serve for a three-year transition period after winning elections, the president has had a change of heart and has vowed to cling on to power until 2021.
A recently formed pro-democracy group, 3 Years Jot Nah, has vowed to launch sustained nationwide anti-government protests should the president fail to call elections at the end of the year.
The government is threatening to come down heavily on the activists and has spent millions of Dalasis on a water canon and training courses for security forces on crowd control.
A senior presidential adviser has even warned the protesters that they would be shot at should they dare embark on nationwide protest against the government.
But responding to the threats, Ms Jagne-Senghor reminded the government and its loyalists that freedom of expression including the right to speak, disseminate, and to express dissenting views including through public protest is the cornerstone of democracy.
“The Government and its allies must refrain from threats to citizens who exercise their right to dissent,” she wrote on Twitter.
Ms Ms Jagne-Senghor, winner of this year’s prestigious West African Shield Award for her outstanding contribution to the advancement of human rights in West Africa added: “For more than 22 years, Gambians were deprived of their fundamental rights, abused by those entrusted with their safety and security. They lived in a climate of fear and mistrust: among citizens and vis a vis of public authorities. This should never happen again!”
She said the Gambia is moving away from a pariah state and has already taken steps to renew its human rights obligations.
She added: “The country started to renew its human rights obligations, what was considered a pariah state has progressively become attractive to the world and citizens. We must remain in that trajectory, finalise the reforms including repeal of anti-media and free speech legislations.”