Solo Sandeng
Solo Sandeng

Banjul, Gambia, April 18, 2016 (AFP) – Gambia’s information minister said Monday he had “no clue” if detained opposition protesters had died in custody or where others were being detained, but asserted the two rare demonstrations they held were illegal. Sherrif Bojang told AFP he could not confirm the death in detention of opposition activist Solo Sandeng and two others.

The United Nations on Sunday called on authorities in the west African country to conduct a “prompt, thorough and independent investigation” into the circumstances of what they said were three activists’ deaths in custody. “Absolutely do not have any clue about the alleged death in custody (of) Solo Sandeng,” Bojang said in the first official reaction to last week’s two opposition protests.

The minister added he had only been informed that the protests were unauthorised and that Sandeng had been arrested. United Democratic Party (UDP) organising secretary Sandeng led a protest Thursday that ended with security forces beating and arresting dozens for making a public call for electoral reform and the resignation of strongman President Yahya Jammeh. “I don’t know their whereabouts or what might have happened to any of them,” Bojang said.

Regarding the arrest of opposition leader Ousainou Darboe, who held a march Saturday demanding answers over Sandeng’s death, Bojang said the human rights lawyer had failed to follow the law. “This is the Gambia, we have rules and laws governing us and one of the laws states that before you embark on such a thing, you must seek and obtain (a) permit from the police and this isn’t done in his case and they were dispersed and detained,” the minister said.

The UN did not release details of the other two victims, but the UDP has previously spoken of two women in a coma in detention. President Jammeh must “uphold the rights of the Gambian people to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. A military officer and former wrestler, Jammeh has ruled Gambia since he seized power in a coup in 1994, and is regularly accused of human rights abuses.

Rights groups Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and ARTICLE 19 said Monday that Jammeh “should ensure an independent and impartial investigation into Sandeng’s death”, and immediately release all peaceful protesters.

“Sandeng’s senseless death in custody appears to be the latest in a long line of abuses against the political opposition in Gambia,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“This case heightens concerns that the Gambian government will intensify its crackdown on independent voices ahead of elections in December.”

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