Gambia: NRP leader berates AU, ECOWAS over opposition leader’s sentencing

A Gambian opposition  leader criticised the regional bloc, ECOWAS, and the African Union for not prevailing on the Gambian authorities in “ensuring that rule of law prevails in Darboe’s trial”. 

Hamat Bah

Hamat Bah, the leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party, has condemned the high court’s sentencing of Lawyer Ousianou Darboe of the United Democratic Party and blamed the African Union and Economic Community of West African States for failing to intervene.

“ECOWAS and AU have done very little for Gambians when we needed them most… They could have ensured that rule of law is observed in the case by putting pressure on the regime. They are ineffective in the situation of The Gambia,” he said at a press conference last Saturday.

“We condemn the sentencing of the UDP leadership in its totally… It was uncalled for, unthinkable and unjustifiable.”

Gambia’s leading opposition figure was sentenced to a 3-year jail term Wednesday after he was found guilty on charges related to a protest earlier this year.

Charges against lawyer Ousainou Darboe, 67, included unlawful assembly, riots, riotously interfering with vehicles, holding a procession without a permit, disobeying an order to disperse from an unlawful procession and conspiracy to commit felony.

He stood trial with 19 other members of his United Democratic Party (UDP), including seven executives. One defendant was acquitted and discharged.

The defendants were found not guilty on one count of inciting violence.

The full-capacity courtroom stood and sang Gambia’s national anthem after Justice Eunice O. Dada, a Nigerian national, issued her verdict.

Darboe was arrested April 16 with more than one dozen UDP executive members as they took to the streets to demand the release of party members arrested two days earlier for holding a peaceful demonstration that called for “proper electoral reform”.

UDP youth leader Solo Sandeng, who led the April 14 demonstration, reportedly died in state custody hours before Darboe and his colleagues took to the streets demanding his release “dead or alive”.

Since Darboe’s arrest, several human rights organizations and the U.N., have called on the Gambian government to release the prisoners.

Amnesty International issued a statement following the verdict saying the conviction was a sign of further deterioration of human rights in Gambia.

Darboe and his colleagues have spent more than two months in jail and boycotted the “farce” trial a few weeks after it begun.

He told the High Court at the time that the defendants’ convictions had already been “predetermined”.

“We have stated clearly … I have no doubt that this trial has been conducted in a way to accelerate my predetermined conviction,” he said. “We are denied our rights under the Criminal Procedure Court of Gambia.”

Gambians will head to polls on Dec.1, and many believe the sentencing might hamper UDP’s chances at office.

 

 

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