“Everyone at home lives in fear” said the young mother protesting outside the UK Foreign Office, “it has to change we are peaceful people.”
It was an Eid celebration and the pots had been bubbling all day, a huge bowl was already full in the centre of the room and as we shared its contents my eye was drawn to the glare of a TV that sat in the corner competing with the music for attention. My host hurriedly turned it off retorting angrily: “we don’t have a film industry in Gambia we have a Yahya Jammeh industry. Everyone you see on the screen is either a relative or a crony.”
This year’s Eid celebrations were tarnished by President Jammeh’s announcement that all death row prisoners would be executed by mid September. Shortly after 9 people, eight men and one woman, were executed by firing squad without informing relatives. Amnesty International report that another 38 remain on death row and also face imminent execution.
On Tuesday Gambians in the diaspora staged protests in the UK and the USA. In London the demonstration started at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Westminster, Central London, where a statement and petition were handed to the British Government through the Foreign Secretary. The demonstrators also staged a peaceful demonstration outside the Foreign Office chanting: “No to Executions; Jammeh must go; Britain must act and end dictatorship in the Gambia; Gambia is a former colony; France acted in Ivory Coast; Down, Down Dictator; Down, Down Yahya Jammeh”.
Abdulai Jobe, Secretary General of the Senegambian Human Rights Defence League said the protest was about “showing our sense of outrage, anger and strong disapproval of the execution of 6 of our fellow countrymen and the threatened of execution of another 35.”
Amongst those executed last week one man, Lamin Darboe, had an outstanding appeal case according to his lawyer, and another, Buba Yarboe, was clinically insane. Observers suggest that Gambia has weak constitutional protections but then rarely follows them. Judicial processes are fraught with errors and easily open to manipulation.
Gambians don’t approve of the death penalty said Mr Jobe: “It is a very conservative, laidback community, where death is a huge collective matter. Killing 9 people in the same day outrages our sensibilities.” We are asking the international community to stage sanctions against the Gambia, not to make the Gambian government any stronger.”
When asked if cutting aid to the Gambia would harm people who are already struggling, Mr Jobe responded: “aid doesn’t get to the Gambian people anyway. It all stops with the establishment.” “We want the international community to listen to our cries, we have been saying this for 18 years, there is a dictatorship in the Gambia.” “Gambian people within the Gambia live in a state of fear, they can’t do what we are doing here, they cannot demonstrate, they cannot protest. We want the international community to realise that the situation in the Gambia is dire now.” Today Amnesty International and 65 international human rights organizations and West African civil society groups issued a joint statement condemning the actions of President Jammeh and calling for a halt to any further executions.