Gambia: President accused of locking up rivals

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Former heads of the navy and army have been charged with plotting to overthrow Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, but the president has been accused by his critics of using allegations of coup plots to intimidate potential rivals and settle scores.

Gambian prosecutor’s said the two former military chiefs [Sarjo Fofona of the Gambian Navy and Gen Langtombong Tamba of the Gambian army] refused to report a coup plot in 2006 to the appropriate authorities within a reasonable period. Several people were later arrested and sentenced to long prison terms over the 2006 coup attempt.

In 2009, another coup was attempted and many military officers have come under trial for the failed coup on President Jammeh. Groups of senior military officials and businessmen were arrested in March also accused of planning to seize power.

Critics of President Jammeh recently expressed concern over the arrests of senior officials – some of whom have been in jail for months without charge. Opposition leader Halifa Sallah has also criticized the wave of arrests in The Gambia, saying detainees – including a former minister – do not know why they are being held.

And while a number of Gambian newspapers reported that the men are being accused of bringing in weapons and mercenaries to support their coup attempt, some sections of the media have linked these arrests and accusations to the recent seizure of more than two tones of cocaine in the country.

Having spent 16 years at the helm of his countries affairs, President Jammeh himself seized power in a coup in 1994. All three elections, which he has won, have been criticized by the opposition as unfair. He has publicly threatened to kill gay people and rights workers.

Critics say the president is settling scores with political rivals and seeking to terminate any possible threats from the military, by charging them with treason and locking them away. Last month the president expelled the envoy of the UN’s children charity, Unicef from Gambia.

The opposition leader told reporters that those arrested have been denied visits from lawyers and family members. President Jammeh has been criticized for his rights record.

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