The long title of the Public Order Act says the Act is a law that prohibits private individuals from raising a military and to make regulation to maintain public order during public precessions as well as to control the use of public address systems in public. The law went on to make a definition of a public meeting, private premises, a public place and a public procession. These definitions are relevant for Section 5 on ‘Control of Processions’ and Section 6 on ‘Control of Loudspeaker.
Under Section 5 the law requires anyone who wishes to embark on a public procession, which is defined as a procession in a public place, shall request a permit from either the IGP if the activity is within the Greater Banjul Area or from the Governor if it is in the regions.
The Three Years Jotna event was scheduled to take place at B.O. Semega Hall in Bundung last night January 3. The event was not a public procession nor was it taking in a public place hence Three Years Jotna group does not need any permit from any authority to hold their event. B.O. Semega Janneh is a private place where users pay the owners to use it.
The Public Order Act defines private premises as a place that the public has access (whether on payment or otherwise) only by permission of the owner, occupier or lessee of the premises. A public place is defined by the Act as a highway, public park or public garden, road, public bridge, beach, land, square or thoroughfare, etc. Clearly B.O. Semega Janneh Hall does not qualify for any of the definitions of a public place, but rather it clearly falls within the definition of a private premises.
Since its creation scores of Gambians have hired this hall to host their wedding ceremonies, meetings, birthday parties, fundraisers, workshops among others. None of the people who use the place ever requested for a permit from the Gambia Police or the Mayor of KMC or the Alkalo of Bundung in order to host their event there. Therefore, why should Three Years Jotna people be required to obtain a permit to use this hall?
Furthermore, Section 6 of the Public Order Act only requires any person or group that wishes to use a loudspeaker in a public place to request for a permit first. On this provision also the Three Years Jotna people do not need a permit simply because the venue is a not public place as defined by the Act even though they will use a loudspeaker. Therefore, why did the IGP stop this group from holding their event which is not a procession or a protest? Rather it is merely a fundraiser!
What is even more perplexing about the action of the IGP is the fact that just last month the Minister of Justice had placed an amendment bill before the National Assembly to amend Sections 5 and 6 of the Public Order Act. In the bill the Minister was seeking to amend Section 5 by discontinuing the permit and to replace it with a notification system. That is, citizens will not have to request for a permit but will only notify the police within six (6) days of their planned procession. In that same bill the Minister was seeking the total deletion of Section 6 which is about requesting a permit for the use of a public address system.
These proposed amendments point to the fact that indeed the Government is aware of the obnoxious nature of the Public Order Act which is not only unconstitutional but also against the norms of international human rights norms and democracy standards to which the Gambia is a party. Bearing that in mind it is indeed extremely contradictory and worrying that the same Government will now stop a group of citizens from assembling within a private property for just a fundraising event.
In December 2019 we saw the Gambia Government issue a permit to the Three Years Jotna group to stage a protest even though under very inhuman conditions. Because of that we saw how the Government jumped to brag about how democratic they were to grant such a permit. From the President to the Vice President to Ministers and other senior officials everyone used every opportunity to tap themselves on the back for respecting the rights of citizens and upholding democratic norms. Yet yesterday all that the Government could do was to deny that same group from holding a fundraiser!
The actions of this Government yesterday must be a clarion call to all Gambians that this country has no committed leadership to the norms and standards of democracy. Clearly this Government is inclined more toward dictatorship than democracy. One has to only look at its decisions and actions to clearly see that the Government is not amenable to democracy – which is to ensure transparency, accountability, adherence to the rule of law and protection of human rights.
In most instances this government is not transparent and accountable to citizens and always seeks to threaten and limit or deny human rights. For example, where it cannot deny a permit for a public assembly it makes sure it restricts that assembly to only a couple of hours or confine the assembly to a remote place such as between Sting Corner and Denton Bridge. Not long ago security chiefs sat on National Television to lie and threaten Gambians for merely exercising their democratic rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Not long ago this President sacked a National Assembly Member with impunity while at the same time refusing to fulfil the mandatory two nationwide tours as stipulated in the Constitution!
Furthermore, we have seen uncountable incidences of corruption and abuse of power in total contravention of the Constitution perpetrated by the President, Ministers and senior Government officials. The Banjul Road Rehabilitation Project, the Semlex contract, the Huawei contract, the fishing contract with EU, the Anonymous Donors as well as the audit report of the 7 SOEs are few of the massive acts of corruption and abuse of office that are perpetrated yet ignored or covered up by this Government with impunity not to mention several wrongful dismissals of public servants for political reasons.
It is high time Gambians realise that Dictatorship is fast creeping back into our country once again. If we could allow the IGP to stop a fundraiser in a private place, sooner than later we will begin to see Gambians arrested at midnight in their homes or tortured under detention and then forcefully disappeared or summarily executed. Let all citizens condemn this act of abuse of power by the IGP and demand that the Government upholds the rule of law and refrain from violations of our rights.
Meantime I strongly advise Three Years Jotna to go to court to sue the IGP for arbitrary destruction of their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of association and assembly.
Furthermore all political parties, the Gambia Bar Association, TANGO, The Gambia Press Union, GCCI, Gambia Trades Union Congress and indeed all citizens and their associations must condemn this act and demand the police to withdraw forthwith.
For The Gambia Our Homeland