When the state decided to give permit to ‘Three Years Jotna’ demonstrators human rights defenders in The Gambia and abroad were impressed that a new era has indeed dawned when citizens could receive protection from the police to vent their grievances in a peaceful manner. Many expected that the march will pass out in peace.
Unfortunately, the 26th of January turned out to be a day of confrontation, arrest and detention for two days. Thousands of family members and friends were moving in and out to find out the fate of their loved ones.
Eventually the state responded by releasing most of the arrestees on police bail, including managers of the two radio stations that were closed down. The eight people who were considered leaders of the movement are charged with inciting violence and have been remanded in custody.
The state should bear in mind that if no conflict occurred, there would not have been any arrest and detention. The very people who are now arrested could have still been moving about in the country. How much then are they a security threat by remaining in the community?
The state has to engage in a balancing act. It should take a fresh look at the security situation after 26th January to determine, whether there are serious security threats from demonstrators. It is hoped that it would see the need to move towards the mechanism of dialogue and peaceful settlement of such mass protests.