In a historic move, The Gambia’s long-time president pardoned a large group of political
prisoners; however, human rights groups report an ever-worsening climate of fear in the West
On July 22, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh commemorated the 21st anniversary of the
military coup that helped him rise to power by pardoning all prisoners convicted of “treasonable
offenses.” While this seems like a bold and courageous stand for the rights of Gambian citizens,
human rights advocates aren’t impressed. In a report released last
Wednesday, Amnesty International detailed the abuses being committed against LGBTQ
individuals and their allies, as well as those merely perceived to be gay or lesbian. According
the report, these abuses have significantly intensified over the past 12 months.
In the report, Amnesty’s West Africa researcher Sabrina Mahtani speaks about the violent
climate of The Gambia that has plagued its citizens for so long now threatens even those do not
live in the country. “The climate of fear which has blighted the lives of Gambians for more than
two decades worsened over the last 12 months with journalists, people perceived to be gay or
lesbian, and those considered to be opponents of the regime and their families increasingly
targeted,” Mahtani explained.
In December, President Jammeh was the target of a military coup by disaffected soldiers.
Though the coup ultimately proved to be unsuccessful, Jammeh has used the staging of the
coup as a rationale for the country’s ever-escalating state-sanctioned violence. Over the past 7
months, Amnesty observed a sharp increase in arrests, detentions, and enforced
disappearances. “Those detained include women, elderly people, and a child, and many are
believed to be unwell,” the report reads.
Among the groups most heavily targeted by the increasing violence are journalists.
According to The Committee To Protect Journalists, Gambian authorities re-abducted radio
journalist Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay on July 17. The week before, Ceesay was released from
custody after being detained without explanation for over two weeks. The day of his second
abduction, Ceesay was seen being forced into a car. Friends did not hear from him again until
the following Tuesday.
To make matters worse, despite pardoning those convicted of treason, Jammeh has spoken
openly about resuming executions and even broadening the death penalty.
In response, Amnesty International expressed that both the international community and
West African bloc “have a duty to address Gambia’s declining human rights record.”