by Madi Jobarteh
It is important that citizens understand the laws, processes and institutions so that we would be able to appreciate the specific nature of things in order to better protect human rights and the rule of law. We must avoid generalizations where we equate or confuse the general with the specific. It is therefore concerning to hear a lot of citizens focus only on the general in which case we will, by default only aid abuse of power and disregard of the rule of law at the expense of human rights.
For example it is clear that no one is above or below the law. It is also clear that the Police have been empowered to protect human rights, which includes questioning citizens on issues that they believe may jeopardize peace and security hence human rights. It is obvious that Dr. Ceesay is not special but a mere citizen like everyone else. But none of these issues are actually the issue since no one claims the contrary.
The specific issue is that while the police have the authority to do their job, yet in the execution of that job they must be seen to be professional, transparent, accountable and law abiding. Hence when we look at the specific facts of these case it will be seen that the actions of the police raise more questions and doubts than give answers and assurances.
The fact is Dr. Ceesay was called by one officer Gaye who requested his presence at the police headquarters to clarify some comments. Without delay Dr. Ceesay went to Banjul thinking he was going to clarify and go home. Unfortunately this did not happen. Rather he was subjected to interrogation for several hours that then led to his detention. It would appear therefore that Dr. Ceesay was lured to the police premises on the pretext that he was only going to clarify an issue only to be kidnapped.
Furthermore, one of the officers who interrogated Ceesay introduced himself as coming from the Office of the President. We do know that there is no police station inside State House. After several hours of interrogation and detention, Dr. Ceesay was charged with ‘incitement to violence’. This is a 1961 colonial offense whose definition is completely at variance with the facts surrounding Dr. Ceesay’s comments in a newspaper.
Even more seriously, during his interrogation he was made to understand that the order for his invitation, detention, interrogation and subsequent charge came from ‘Above’. Who or what is the ‘Above”? This has not been clarified.
Now, when one looks at these specifics, one must be concerned as a citizen that this is not the kind of processes and institutions that the Gambia deserves post-Yaya Jammeh. It can be seen clearly that the arrest of Dr. Ceesay was not even an independent professional initiative of the police. Rather it is clear that the police were taking orders from “Above” that we don’t even know. Anywhere that the law enforcement agency receives directives from outside to act must be a concern to all.
Secondly what we need to bear in mind is that the comment that Dr. Ceesay made was being published in the newspaper for many days without him being arrested. Why did the police wait for so long before arresting him if they knew that what he said is a security concern? Also, since Dr. Ceesay made those comments and until his arrest, has there been any breach of the security of the Gambia in between that can be attributed to his comments? What we know so far is that both the police and the government never said anything like that.
Hence citizens must not take this matter lightly or misinterpret it by confusing the general norms and practices of the police with this specific action. Let us remember that not long ago Mama Kandeh was also invited to the police when he said loans received by the government were being distributed among ministers. After that we also know APRC’s Seedy Njie was also questioned for comments that he made. To now see another citizen arrested in like manner must be a concern.
What makes this even more concerning is the fact that for 22 years we went through such experiences in which citizens were ‘invited’ by the police only to end up being detained, tortured and even killed or disappear. Therefore should we not be concerned if the same practice continues today?
Citizens must understand that the State is not a joke. The State is a very powerful tool; in fact the most powerful in any society. Hence matters of the State must generate urgent and high level of concern and scrutiny. The APRC Regime offers us the best lesson from which to learn. Therefore let us not just brush issues aside on the flimsy argument that the police have the authority to invite anyone for questioning as if anyone had said that the police lack such authority. Yes, the police have that authority but they do not have an authority to do it anyhow.
Citizens also have rights that they must enjoy and it is the duty of the State to protect those rights. Let us demand utmost professionalism on the part of our police and adherence to the rule of law. If we merely allow the police to operate anyhow we would end up injuring ourselves sooner than later.
For the Gambia Our Homeland.