(Geneva, 29 July 2016) – We are concerned at the three-year prison sentences handed down last week to 30 members of the main opposition party in Gambia, including its leader Ousainou Darboe, following their participation in peaceful protests in mid-April. We also remain deeply concerned that there has yet to be an impartial, independent and thorough investigation into allegations of excessive use of force in the context of the demonstrations, and into the arrest and death in State custody of the former secretary of the party.
On 20 July, the Banjul High Court convicted 19 members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) for unlawful assembly, rioting, incitement to violence, “riotously interfering with vehicles”, holding a procession without a permit, disobeying an order to disperse from an unlawful procession and conspiracy. On 21 July, the Mansakonko High Court convicted another 11 UDP members for the same offences.
All those convicted were arrested either on 14 April 2016 during a protest for electoral reforms or on 16 April 2016 during a demonstration held after the arrest and alleged death in State custody of UDP Secretary Solo Sandeng two days earlier.
We have serious concerns about reported violations of the right to a fair trial. Defence lawyers have said that access to their clients was repeatedly hampered, that the arrests were politically motivated and that due process guarantees were not respected.
On 8 June, defence lawyers walked out of the courtroom and decided not to take part in further proceedings as the court rejected their applications, including one requesting the Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of the proceedings. The trial continued with the accused unrepresented in court.
We urge the authorities to investigate all allegations of excessive use of force in the context of the April demonstrations, as well as allegations that some of those arrested were tortured and denied access to medical care.