By Alieu Ceesay
#OccupyWestfield Team said they remain firm and resolute in their resolve to exercise their right to assemble peacefully as guaranteed by section 25 of the constitution.
It was on October 26, when the #OccupyWestfield Team issued The Declaration of the Occupation of Westfield.
A statement was read on the urgent need for stability in the current water and electricity situation in urban Gambia. It then called on the public to converge with the team at Westfield to vent their frustrations in the form of a peaceful protest. This was to be the official birth of #OccupyWestfield as a team.
“After that call, the response has been immense. It trended on social media and across the streets. We then realized the need to get police clearance and permit for the occasion. We applied for a permit which was submitted at the police headquarters.
We were called in the following day for screening from the intelligence office. Again we were then called to meet with the IGP and Co. We held discussions on security details. But at the eleventh hour, our permit was denied,” Alieu Bah, a member of Team read out in a media statement on behalf of the Team on Sunday evening at West Field where the proposed protest was to take place.
The Police denied the Team permit to protest twice. During the process of reading out the statement, armed riot police arrived at the place, ordering the Team to dispersed with immediate effect amidst threatening words of arrest if they insist on staying.
Prominent among the Team were Rapper Killa Ace, Paradise FM Proprietor Haruna Drammeh, Salieu Taal and Raffie Diab of #GambiaHasDecided Movement.
Alieu Bah added, “Relentless in our call, knowing full well that ours is a right guaranteed by the constitution. We continued pushing for #OccupyWestfield even as the odds stacked against us.”
The day after meeting the Police chief, Bah went on, they were again ushered into another meeting. This time with the then Interior Minister, Mai Fatty.
A long negotiation ensued for the postponement of the protest. Citing security reasons again. He said they conceded and postponed; acting as responsible and mature citizens of the land.
“The following week we again met the minister but was cut short because he got called to an emergency meeting. We then rushed to the police headquarters where we had earlier in the day submitted a letter requesting security protection for our protest slated for this Sunday, the 12th.” Bah added that they again went through the screening process but this time around a clearance plus security protection was afforded for their proposed protest.
It was a joyous occasion for them all, he said, for they felt the constitution have been honored, which is what New Gambia should be about.
“On Saturday whiles we were busy preparing the logistics for the protest, a call came in from the office of the IGP. Again we have been summoned to a meeting. We got to the meeting only to be given excuses of counter demonstrations, the beach boys said they too are protesting at the beach in solidarity with us.
It was a shifting argument of excuses from the Security heads. A constant invention of boogeymen. Our clearance was then revoked.”
The revocation happened within 24 hours of its reception of the clearance. The excuses advances by the police, according to Bah, were neither genuine nor firm in the denial of their constitutional rights.
“We remain firm and resolute in our resolve to exercise our right to assemble peacefully as guaranteed by section 25 of the constitution. The police continue to invoke Section 5 of the Public Order Act which itself is unconstitutional and has been challenged in the supreme court of the Gambia.” He concluded, “We won’t cow down at the eleventh hour and let draconian laws win over the constitution.
We stand in solidarity with the supreme law of the land and most of all our human right to gather in peace and protest.”