DAKAR, SENEGAL - More than 30 protesters remain in custody in Gambia nearly a week after their arrest for demanding free speech and electoral reform, though authorities have released 15 others, opposition sources said Wednesday.
Security forces in the small West African nation made the first wave of arrests during a small demonstration near the capital, Banjul, last Thursday and then made a second roundup of opposition politicians Saturday.
In all, 50 were arrested, according to sources in the United Democratic Party (UDP), the country's main opposition party, in what the United Nations and the United States have condemned as a severe overreaction to the protests.
Three of those arrested, including a leading UDP member, Solo Sandeng, are feared dead, the party has previously said. The Gambian government has not commented on the arrests. It has also not confirmed the release of any protesters or the reported deaths. Gambian police sources last week confirmed there had been some arrests but gave no number.
UDP leader Ousainu Darboe is among those still held in custody. A lawyer for Darboe, Antouman Gaye, has filed a request for the release of him and other leading party members with the Supreme Court.
The demonstrations were a rare act of defiance in Gambia and occurred while President Yahya Jammeh was in Turkey attending a summit of officials from Islamic countries.
Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, is regularly denounced by rights groups and foreign governments for ruthlessly stamping out political dissent in the nation of 2 million people.
The former military man, who scrapped term limits from the constitution, is expected to extend his rule in elections due in December.