Gambia’s main opposition leader said security forces Thursday denied him permission to use a public address system to speak to his supporters while touring the country.
Ousaninu Darbo of the United Democratic Party (UDP) said that under Gambia’s current controversial Public Order Act, anyone wanting to use a public address system must first get permission from the police.
But he said police threw roadblocks in his way when he sought the permission.
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the government of President Yahya Jammeh of widespread human rights violations in the 20 years since he’s been in power.
Darbo said what the government is doing is laying the groundwork to deny opposition politicians the right to contest the 2016 presidential election.
“We are trying to tour the country and in order to address the gather very effectively we applied to the police for the use of the public address system. About 3:00 Thursday afternoon we got a response that they want to have a timeline about the scheduled meeting. And my response was that the request was not made in good faith,” he said.
Darbo said because he submitted his application for use of the PA system April 2, he interpreted the last-minute demand by the police for his schedule as a refusal to allow him to use the public address system.
Nevertheless, he said he went ahead and addressed his first public meeting without use of the PA system. But when tried to leave to go to his second speaking appointment, police in riot gear set up road blocks.
“Just on the outskirt of the settlement, we found the police physically barricaded the highway by placing their police vehicles in the road so that no one will have access. And we had the standoff for almost two hours,” Darbo said.
He said traveling the country is the only way he can touch base with his grassroots supporters and recruit new members since the government controls the media.
Darbo said what’s happening to him shows President Jammeh has no regard for opposition parties. He said there is absolute intolerance for opposition parties in the Gambia.
“In fact what is being done is to stifle opposition country. There’s a great deal of pretense that the Gambia espouses democratic values. The government does not believe in democracy. All that this government wants is to have a one-party state, and what they are now doing is an indication of what is going to happen during the 2016 election,” Darbo said.
The Jammeh government said it foiled an attempted coup on December. At least four assailants were reportedly killed and one captured by the security forces.
According to Amnesty International, Gambian authorities “have not returned the bodies of those killed to their families and there is currently no information on the whereabouts of the person who was captured.”
It called on the authorities to either charge or release family members of people suspected to be involved in December’s alleged failed coup, and grant them immediate access to lawyers.
“They have the right of appeal, and I hope that the government will allow these people to exercise their constitutional right of appeal up to the Supreme Court,” Darbo said.