“I am happy to announce that as Inspector General of Police of The Gambia Police Force, we are dropping all charges against Mr. Madi Jobarteh as from today. No other action will be taken against him as far as this case is concerned”, said the IGP in a statement issued by the National Secretariat of the National Human Rights Commission of The Gambia.
The Inspector General of The Gambia Police Force, Mr. Mamour Jobe, shared this positive sentiment on 10 July 2020 towards the release of Mr. Madi Jobarteh, a renowned advocate for social justice in the Gambia.
On 30 June 2020, Mr. Jobarteh was invited by the police to clarify a media interview he had granted relating to George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement during a demonstration he organised on 27 June 2020 in front of the United States Embassy in Serrekunda, The Gambia. He was later arrested and charged with “false information and broadcasting”. He was later granted bail and asked to report to the police regularly for an undefined period.
This is evidence of restrictions to the civic freedoms of Gambians, a situation social justice organisations in West Africa denounce.
Facilitated by three leading civil society organisations (CSOs); the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), CIVICUS and Africans Rising, some 30 African CSOs, most from West Africa, condemned the arbitrary arrest and harassment of Mr. Jobarteh.
“This amounts to harassment and the curtailing of his rights to freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Constitution of the Gambia – which mandates the Government to respect, safeguard and allow for the enjoyment of those rights,” a statement issued by the consortium of CSOs and addressed to the President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow on 10 July 2020, read.
The CSOs drew the attention of President Barrow to the fact that the arrest of Mr. Jobarteh highlights the growing trend of repressions to civic freedoms, including freedom of expression and speech and an incessant violation of citizen’s fundamental human rights in the country.
“Mr. President, we also wish to underscore the fact that Mr. Jobarteh’s arrest and false accusation is just one of the many, suggesting a dangerous descent for the country as far as human rights, freedoms, and democratic governance are concerned,” the CSOs’ statement to the President read.
Hence, they firmly appealed to the President to take stringent measures to reverse this negative trend in the country, beginning with the immediate release of Mr. Jobarteh. As the CSOs put it:
“We, in solidarity with the people of the Gambia, and Mr. Madi Jobarteh in particular, therefore, call upon your administration to reverse this disturbing trend, and demonstrate greater commitment to civil and human rights, and protect the fundamental and constitutional rights to expression of Gambians.”
This joint advocacy statement was shared with the President of The Gambia on 10 July 2020 and it catalysed the release of the fearless social justice advocate Mr. Jobarteh later that day.
In an email to WACSI and other CSOs that championed this laudable and successful collaborative advocacy effort, Mr. Jobarteh said, “your intervention was timely and indeed I continue to receive appreciation of the power and aptness of your letter to the president”.
In her response to Mr. Jobarteh, Ms. Omolara Balogun, Head, Policy Influencing and Advocacy unit at WACSI recognised and commended the power of collective action among CSOs. “Congratulations to us all! Special thanks to colleagues who endorsed the letter within the shortest time available. We were thrilled at the level of solidarity received across the region,” she said.
She reiterated WACSI’s continuous commitment to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society, including the promotion of the freedoms of association, assembly and expression for all West Africans which are indispensable for an open society. Ms. Balogun called on civil society actors to continue to work assiduously to change the narratives of repressions on civic freedoms currently experienced across the sub-region.
“It is high time we reflected and attempt to change the narratives around our democracy, human rights, and development in West Africa. It is sad to note that, rather than consolidating, we seem to be losing (fast) even the gains we have made in the last decade[s]. There is growing tension from Nigeria, to Ghana, to Guinea (Conakry and Bissau), the entire Sahel region, to Cote d’Ivoire, and if unattended to, this tension threatens our collective growth and peace,” she said.
Agreeing to this, Mr. Jobarteh decried the deplorable state of development in West Africa. “Our subregion is not in good shape. Even those countries we trumpet as better democracies such as Ghana, Senegal, and Cape Verde among others, one will still find massive corruption, inequality, high cost of living, severe structural imbalances, weak institutions and poor service delivery where majority of the people cannot afford, access and enjoy basic social services among other challenges,” he said.
He, therefore, urged all civic actors to collaboratively and proactively contribute to the development of a roadmap to reverse this situation.
According to Mr. Jobarteh, “I think there is a need for civil society to convene and craft an agenda that will mark the beginning of a robust social, economic and political transformation of the region”.
Together with other civil society actors in the region, WACSI is championing a discussion to move this agenda forward and facilitate a convening that will create room for civil society actors to share their perspectives, agree on priorities and define action points that will put the West African peoples first in efforts to have an open and prosperous West Africa.
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