By Kebba Jeffang
A detachment of fully armed security forces, comprising personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) and state guards, on Saturday, 16th April, 2016 rounded up some executive members of the United Democratic Party (UDP), including its party leader Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, and party militants while they were marching on Kairaba Avenue to demand for Ebrima Solo Sandeng and others who were arrested.
Solo Sandeng, who was picked up with others by the security forces on Thursday, 14 April, 2016 at Westfield, is alleged to have died while being held by them.
Before the commencement of the procession at Lawyer Darboe’s residence on Kairaba Avenue before midday, the UDP leader told the journalists who were present that they are peacefully going to the PIU headquarters at Kanifing to demand for an explanation on the fate of their party members who were arrested and said to be held by them. He said they have advised all those taking part in the procession not to insult anyone, cause harm to people or destroy vehicles and property on the way.
Mr. Darboe said The Gambia is presently in a state of crisis, and the same applies to democracy and the rule of law. He said this event of 14th April had led to the arrest of several young people who were protesting for electoral reform at Westfield.
“My executive was never informed about what was planned and I understand that the other party leaders were not informed because we were likely to say no to it and they decided to go ahead and do what they wanted to do. Of course peaceful demonstrations are constitutionally guaranteed. They are rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution and rights that are guaranteed are exercisable without permission from anybody, otherwise they become privileges. UDP as a party was not involved and was not concerned about what took place,” said the UDP leader.
Mr. Darboe said they later learnt that some of their party members were involved in the protest and as such they will not abandon them simply because it was organised without their consent. He said the APRC regime does not respect the rights of individuals.
“I’ve got impeccable information that these arrested people were taken to Mile 2 prisons; initially at the Police Intervention Unit headquarters in Kanifing and then taken to Mile 2 central prisons where they were picked out in numbers of five and taken to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) where they were subjected to the most brutal torture,” said Darboe.
He added that Solo Sandeng was in a state of comma but was not given any medical attention.
“By 10 pm at night, I got information that he died as a result of the torture. One would have expected that a postmortem would be carried out to determine the cause of the death…,” he said. “And as I talk to you now, I have information which we are watching that Fatoumatta Jawara is in a state of comma, in a very critical condition and she is between life and death, so is Nogoi Njie, the first vice president of the female wing, also in a similar situation,” said an emotionally charged Darboe.
The UDP leader said his party has the right to go about its political activities without hindrance. He said Solo Sandeng is the Steve Biko of the Gambia today. He said the UDP met on Friday and have decided that they will go out on Saturday and demand for Sandeng, either dead or alive. He said they will also demand for the release of other people who were arrested. He said in the process, they have asked all the deputies in the various positions in the executive to stay away as he (Darboe) and the others are prepared to join Sandeng that day.
“We are going to ask for Solo’s body either alive of dead and the rest of them to be released,” said Mr. Darboe.
When they started the procession, the UDP party officials who were in front of marchers included Lawyer Darboe, Modou Sanneh, former Minority Leader, Kemeseng Jammeh, former Minority Leader, Lamin Dibba, former National Assembly Member and Femi Peters among others. They were followed by some of the family members of Solo Sandeng, including his daughter, Fatoumatta Sandeng, among others. The marchers were chanting “Release Solo Sandeng and the rest of the Westfield protestors either dead or alive” and displaying placards and banners with similar inscriptions.
As the procession got near the Elton filling station or FIB building on the same road, a truck load of fully armed PIU personnel and soldiers maneuvered its way through the crowd from behind to be at the front where it stopped to barricade the marchers. Some security personnel were in front of the marchers and trying to stop them as they forged ahead.
However, reinforcements also started coming to the scene at the main Latrikunda-Kairaba Avenue junction with the arrival of more trucks and pick up vehicles carrying security personnel armed with riot gears such as helmets, shields, tear gas canisters, etc. All of a sudden, the situation descended into chaos as the marchers and security engaged in a scuffle which led to beatings with batons, rifle butts and the firing of tear gas by the security and stone throwing by marchers. The security started using force in arresting some of the marchers who were being physically assaulted and thrown into waiting trucks and pick up vehicles while chasing of others who ran into the adjoining side streets. In the process, many old and young men and women were arrested or captured, including by standers, pedestrians and those found selling or at their work places nearby, who were all whisked away.
The UDP executive members who were arrested and taken away included Lawyer Darboe, Momodou Sanneh, Lamin Dibba, Kemeseng Jammeh, Femi Peters, Fakebba Colley, Lamin Jatta, Junkunda Suso, Lamin Ceesay, Tapha Makalo, Fanta Darboe, Amadou Sawo and Kebba Khan.