By Alhagie Jobe

 

The United Nations human rights office Friday expressed concern over the three-year prison sentences handed down last week to 30 members of the Gambia’s main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), including its leader Ousainou Darboe, following their participation in peaceful protests in mid-April.

 

In a statement issued today, July 29, 2016 at the regular bi-weekly news briefing in Geneva, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the authorities to investigate all allegations of excessive use of force in the context of the April demonstrations, as well as allegations that some of those arrested were tortured and denied access to medical care.

 

“We also remain deeply concerned that there has yet to be an impartial, independent and thorough investigation into allegations of excessive use of force in the context of the demonstrations, and into the arrest and death in State custody of the former secretary of the party,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said at the regular bi-weekly news briefing in Geneva.

 

On 20 July, the Banjul High Court convicted 19 members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) for unlawful assembly, rioting, incitement to violence, “riotously interfering with vehicles,” holding a procession without a permit, disobeying an order to disperse from an unlawful procession and conspiracy. On 21 July, the Mansakonko High Court convicted another 11 UDP members for the same offences. All those convicted were arrested either on 14 April during a protest for electoral reforms or on 16 April during a demonstration held after the arrest and alleged death in State custody of UDP top member Solo Sandeng two days earlier.

 

Spokesman Colville added: “We have serious concerns about reported violations of the right to a fair trial. Defense lawyers have said that access to their clients was repeatedly hampered, that the arrests were politically motivated and that due process guarantees were not respected”.

 

According to Mr. Colville, on 8 June, defense lawyers walked out of the courtroom and decided not to take part in further proceedings as the court rejected their applications, including one requesting the Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of the proceedings and the trial continued with the accused unrepresented in court.