By Sanna Sarr
Gambian security forces have detained UDP’s campaign manager, Momodou Sabally. Reports are that he is being questioned about remarks he made recently in a video where he was speaking to the UDP Tiktokers.
Apparently, the police have a problem with the part of the Mr. Sabally’s speech where he intimated that they will “remove President Barrow”. I have since listened to the video, which was in Mandinka, and I will say there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with anything that was said in that speech. Not one word! Although firm in his intonation, the whole speech was rather light-hearted and focused a lot on political campaigning and activity. The bit about removing the president was not a standalone statement. It was clearly a figure of speech as, without skipping a beat, the speaker continued to speak about the need for political involvement/activity. It is absurd for anyone to isolate that one phrase, ignore the rest of the sentence which puts it into context, and pretend that phrase was spoken in a vacuum.
Even if the speaker had stopped at “we will remove the president” without the additional context, the government cannot just assume that he meant “by illegal means” unless he said or suggested so. There was no such suggestion or statement!
IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: In fact, in advising his audience to be politically active, Mr. Sabally was unequivocal that they must do it “KULUWO KANG”, Mandinka for “RESPECTFULLY”. You cannot be more clear than that!
Ignoring this clear abuse of authority sets a dangerous precedent because if that’s the standard, then we might as well forget about freedom of speech.
The current authorities have been pushing the envelope to see how far Gambians will let them go in abusing citizens’ rights. We have two recent examples which prove that they will only take as much as citizens allow them.
The first is activist Madi Jobarteh’s case. In that instance, collectively, Gambians stood with Madi to resist the tyrannical imitations. The government had no choice but to back down. They quickly dropped the charges and Madi went about his business.
The second incident was the case of comedian Muhammed Darboe. Although I found Mr. Darboe’s speech distasteful, disrespectful, misogynistic and unfair to the First Lady, there was nothing illegal about it. For some reason, Gambians generally turned a blind eye, remained silent, blamed the comedian, or made excuses for the government. Seeing this, the authorities took liberty to detain him for days and by the time they let him go, the comedian was intimidated and completely silenced.
Those two incidents prove to us that we will only get what we deserve. These incremental steps towards tyranny need to be met with immediate, unambiguous and uncompromising condemnation and resistance by all who believe in Justice.
Sadly, it seems like in Mr. Sabally’s case, because of political sentiments, some are trying to find excuses for the government’s encroachment. Unsurprisingly, I am yet to hear statements or see action from any of our political parties who should already have been at the police station demanding answers. This apathy or partiality in our advocacy for justice is reckless and only serves to embolden the authorities in their quest to abuse citizens’ rights for political gain. We need to be firm, clear-eyed and consistent in protecting the rights of all citizens regardless of whether we like/agree with them. Failure to do so puts all of us at risk.
The Gambia Police Force need to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Sabally with an apology for wasting his time!
“Give them an inch, they take a yard. Give them a yard, they take a mile” – Bob Marley