Two Prominent Gender and Human Rights Defenders detained in The Gambia.

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Coalition for Human Rights in the Gambia Press Release 13 October 2010.

Two prominent Gender and Human Rights defenders, Dr. Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang Sissoho were arrested and detained on Monday October 11th, 2010 by Gambian security forces, kept in police custody at the Banjul Police station, and sent to  jail on Tuesday 12th October 2010.

Dr. Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang Sissoho were called on Monday 11th October by an NIA officer to report to the Public Relations Officer of the National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA). Upon reporting to the NDEA office,they were directed to the Police Headquarters and eventually detainedwithout charges. Within hours, they proceeded to the Banjul Magistrate Court, where a ruling was made for them to be detained until Tuesday the 12th October, 2010. On Tuesday the 12th, the two women went back to the magistrate court for hearing on a bail application by the Defence Counsel.They were denied bail by the presiding magistrate and sent to the female wing of the Central Prison in Mile2 for 8 (eight) days while investigation will be ongoing.

Dr. Isatou Touray, Executive Director and Amie Bojang Sissoho, Programme Coordinator, of the Gambia Committee for Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP) have over the years been very active and effective in the promotion of gender, women and children’s rights particularly as they relate to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other discriminatory practices.

GAMCOTRAP is one of the lead organisations working in the area of women and girls empowerment, FGM and other harmful practices that affect the lives and circumstances of women and girls in The Gambia. GAMCOTRAP’s years of struggle and countless efforts have contributed significantly to the development of women and girls in The Gambia and elsewhere and has led to over 100 (one hundred) circumcisers dropping their knives publicly and abandoning the practice.

The two ladies were detained since Monday 11th October, 2010 and allegedly charged with theft of 30 thousand Euros. They spent Monday night in police custody, and their  application for bail that was due to be decided on Tuesday the 12th  has been refused and the two women’s rights defenders have been remanded for 8 (eight) days.

In his ruling, the presiding magistrate, Mr Emmanuel Nkea noted that he was in a tight corner and found it difficult to decide because both prosecution and defence have failed to elaborate on the issue of whether the defendants will use their influence to interfere with the investigation of the policewhich the police say is incomplete. In the end he refused them bail and remanded them in custody at the Female Wing of Mile Two Prisons for 8(eight)days after which they will proceed to court for hearing. The Prosecutor had asked for fourteen days to enable them complete their investigation.However sources close to the office of the President have disclosed that the detention of the two ladies is an executive order.

It could be recalled that in May 2010 the office of the President set up a panel consisting of 7 (seven) NIA and Police Officers to investigate GAMCOTRAP on the management of a Spanish donor fund from YOLOCAMBASOLIDARIDAD. After a careful review of the issues through statements obtained and relevant materials, the panel concluded that the allegation was unfounded. However, upon submission of its findings, the Panel was dissolved and some of the members dismissed from the service of The Gambian Government. A second Panel was set up and while GAMCOTRAP was awaiting the outcome of the second investigation, the two women were remanded.

This is not the first time that GAMCOTRAP has been targeted by President Yaya Jammeh ‘s government . In 1999 the security of members of GAMCOTRAP was threatened when the president publicly said that he could not guarantee the safety of activists who are campaigning against FGM. This was followed by a policy directive from the then Director of Broadcasting of the Gambia  Radio and Television Services (GRTS) forbidding the staff from  broadcasting on Gambia Radio and Television (state owned) messages that oppose FGM, ormention the medical hazards. Instead, only messages in support of the practice should be aired on the state owned media.

GAMCOTRAP reacted by sending an open letter to the President, the first tobe done by a civil society organisation in The Gambia.

It could be recalled that President Jammeh has systematically launched direct attacks on vocal human rights campaigners and activists. Last year he threatened human rights defenders with arrests. In September this year,human rights defender and  Director of “Africa in Democracy and Good Governance”, Edwin Nebolisa, was  given six-month-imprisonment with hard labour and  an additional ten thousand Gambian Dalasi (approximately US $330) fine by the Banjul Magistrate Court having declared him “guilty ofgiving false information” to President Yahya Jammeh’s office. Nebolisa wasarrested in March 2010 following a letter he allegedly wrote to President’s office announcing the nomination of President Jammeh’s daughter as a goodwill ambassador of Africa in Democracy and Good Governance. The magistrate also ordered for the indefinite suspension of Mr. Nebolisa’s right-based organisation.

Recently, the government started the process of amending the NGO affairs Act in order to effect greater control and restrictions on the NGOs.

The Coalition for Human Rights in The Gambia is calling on President Yaya Jammeh  and his government to respect the constitutional rights of Dr.Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang Sissoho and to allow justice to prevail.

For more information, contact +221 33 867 95 87

ORGANISATIONS:-       Inter African Network for Women, Media, Gender and Development -(FAMEDEV)-       International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)-       Syndicat des Professionnels de l’Information et de la Communicationdu Senegal (SYNPICS)-       Rencontre Africaine pour le Défense Des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO),-       Amnesty International, Section Senegal-       Radio Alternative Voice for Gambians-Radio AVG-       Article 19-       Organisation Nationale des Droits de l’Homme (ONDH)-       Reseau Presse et Parlement du Senegal (REPPAS)-       West African Journalists Association (WAJA).