Following a meeting at the Scottish Parliament with MSP Humza Yousaf, the Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia is gaining support among Members. At the time of writing, 16 MSPs from various parties have signed a motion MSP Yousaf launched.
Having heard Gambian exile Alieu B. Ceesay speak at a fringe meeting at the SNP conference in Inverness recently, Humza invited him to Edinburgh to discuss the issues in detail.
Said journalist Alieu: ‘There was an election last month in The Gambia. The President was re-elected as expected. Opponents were not allowed to campaign except for 11 days before voting. Some opponents were jailed in advance of the election. In recent times people have disappeared, been tortured and killed if they displease the Government. People are afraid even to talk about the election result because they don’t know who might be listening.’
According to Amnesty International there is a ‘climate of fear’ in The Gambia. They recently updated their report on human rights abuse in the sunny, West African country and said the situation was getting worse.
MSP Yousaf commented: ”I will support the call for Human Rights in the Gambia. The country is a part of the Commonwealth and also receives financial support from Europe. It must observe the conventions it has signed and its international obligations, that is why I have put forward this motion. Scotland should be a beacon for human rights across the world and we owe a duty to those who seek asylum in our country.’
The motion reads: ‘That the Parliament expresses concern at what it considers the dire human rights situation in Gambia; understands that the Gambian Government refuses to abide by its international human rights obligations, with cases of enforced disappearance remaining unresolved, perpetrators of unlawful killings not being brought to justice and torture still widely used by security forces; further understands that those who report such abuses, particularly in the media, are in grave danger, and expresses solidarity with the human rights defenders of Gambia, many of whom have been granted asylum in Scotland, in their struggle for basic human rights.
To follow the progress and see who has signed up to this motion check out the following website and insert reference number S4M-01460 or Humza Yousaf’s name: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx
The Campaign for Human Rights in The Gambia will hold a fund-raising concert in the CCA, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow on Tuesday 25 October at 7:30.
Local musicians have agreed to perform and VIP guest speakers have been invited. Film of recent activities by the Campaign to bring to public notice in the UK the fact that people are ‘disappearing’ and being killed without trial in the West African sun spot, is also expected to be shown.
Exiled journalist Alieu B. Ceesay recently conducted two successful workshops at a seminar in Edinburgh on ‘Reporting International Development’ which was jointly organised by Amnesty, ‘Take One Action’, NIDOS and the National Union of Journalists.
Internet reports show that a Gambian lawyer had been sentenced to two years hard labour by a Nigerian judge in The Gambia on a charge of ‘giving false information to a public servant’ (http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/gba-condemns-moses-richards-conviction). The Gambia Bar Association had called a week long strike in protest . (http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/lawyers-protest-moses-richards-conviction).
With music, poetry, film and words, the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia launched its first social evening which was enjoyed by more than 100 supporters at the CCA in Glasgow on Tuesday 18 January.
In his welcome, John Matthew, chair of the Glasgow Branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) which is actively promoting the campaign, said: ‘Everyone is welcome – and an especial welcome to anyone sent here by the Gambia Government or Security Service. Here, you will hear the truth!’
The truth about people who had been imprisoned, tortured, disappeared or killed in cold blood for saying things that were constitutional but critical of the present regime, was related in a variety of ways.
Exiled journalist Alieu Ceesay outlined the reality of life in the sunny West African country. Not only is he on a ‘wanted’ list which is checked at every point of entry to the Gambia, but last week the country’s own Justice Minister Edward Gomez, threatened him and the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights. ‘We will wait here for them to come,’ said the Justice Minister. And warned they would be prosecuted on arrival in Gambia.
Amnesty filmed interviews of a woman writer who was imprisoned and whose baby was taken from her and put into an orphanage and of a male politician who was tortured and witnessed others being tortured and killed in prison, were screened.
A messages of support was given by Peter Swindon, assistant to Westminster MP Anas Sarwar (Labour) who has had 27 cross-party MPs signing an Early Day Motion condemning the abuses of human right in the Gambia. Through the MP, the Campaign has made contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee to inform their cause and the UK Government’s responses and policies.
Said Peter: ‘We have been inspired by the courage and bravery of people like Alieu Ceesay and exiled journalist Charles Atangana from the Cameroons. These voiceless people need us to stand up and shout for them.’
MSP Patrick Harvie (Scottish Green Party) detailed how he has brought forward a similar early day motion in the Scottish Parliament which has been signed by 25 MSPs from the different parties. He emphasised that such human rights were a fundamental part of any democracy. MSP Anne McLaughlin (SNP) also pledged support.
NUJ President, Peter Murray, explained how important it was for a journalist to be able to investigate and circulate their stories especially when a government is corrupt. ‘This is at the heart of good journalism,’ he said. ‘Informed people are strong people.’
Amnesty International representative Arthur West, who is chair of Ayrshire Branch, told the meeting that asylum seekers like Alieu and Charles have been rejected by the UK. ‘We are encouraged to continue the fight for fairness and justice when we hear what people like them have to say and what they have experienced.’
The information was interspersed with poetry, music, song and laughter.
Karina and Ben set the tone of the evening with voice and keyboard. Babs MacGregor followed with some old and new Gaelic songs. Tawong Sithole a poet and musician from Zimbabwe, played the traditional music instrument, mbirg, to wonderful effect. His poems of critical assessment of self and others, were powerful. He and some of his colleagues entertain regularly at the CCA at the Charing Cross end of Sauchiehall Street under the name: Seeds of Thought. An uplifting set from the Parsonage Choir keep the mood bright and enabled everyone to leave with a song in their hearts and with some serious information in their mind.
Labour MP for Glasgow North East, Willie Bain, pledged his support last week, when he met members of the Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia.
The recently formed Campaign group was launched in Glasgow to keep the rest of the world aware of the deteriorating situation in the West Africa country which is a member of the Commonwealth.
Exiled Gambian political journalist, Alieu B. Ceesay, told Willie that arbitrary arrests, detention and human rights violations in his homeland, translate into a culture of silence. All public protests have ceased. Self censorship of the media is the rule rather than the exception.
Said Alieu: ‘Individuals are rarely informed of the reason for their arrest. Once in custody, detainees seem to fall beyond the protection of the law. They are routinely subjected to further human rights violations, such as torture, unfair trials and execution or they simply disappear.’ Amnesty International has published a report on human rights violations in Gambia.
The current political climate in the Gambia denies political parties a permit to hold rallies, access to radio or television air time in state media or to sell their programmes to local citizens. Femi Peters of the United Democratic Party was jailed for doing just that.
The Scottish led, Campaign group has appealed to the UK government to exert economic and political pressure on the Gambian government with a view to protecting and respecting the human rights of the Gambian people and the international protocols and conventions which Gambia has signed.
The Westminster MP said he would speak to the Shadow Foreign Secretary about the situation and will also put forward written and oral questions to Parliament about the human rights situation in Gambia.
He called on the Campaign to reach out to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights, the influential International Development Select Committee, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Select Committee in order to get their message to more MPs.
A campaign to highlight human rights abuse in the sunshine West African country of the Gambia was launched last night in Glasgow.
Backed by Westminster MP Anas Sarwar and the President of the National Union of Journalists( NUJ) Pete Murray, the new group will bring the issues to a wider audience.
‘I didn’t know about people disappearing, being tortured and murdered in the Gambia till I heard details at a vigil two years ago,’ said Austin Sheridan a 17-year-old, elected member of the Scottish Youth Parliament. He has brought the situation and an Amnesty International report ‘Gambia: Fear Rules’ to the attention of that Parliament’s International Committee.
Anas Sarwar, MP for Central Glasgow, said when he was campaigning to be elected, he had attended the same vigil and met an exiled Gambian journalist. ‘I promised him then, that if I was elected I would do all I could to highlight the human rights issues in the Gambia. I am keeping that promise,’ he told the meeting in the STUC.
He went on to offer the NUJ the opportunity to hold a meeting at the House of Commons to inform even more people.
NUJ national president Pete Murray, said his union was proud to support the campaign. ‘Not just because journalists are affected by the abuse of human rights but because they are being detained and tortured simply for doing their job and are being forced to flee their country and seek asylum here.’ He outlined the NUJ’s campaign to persuade the UK government to allow asylum seekers the right to work and the right to stay.
. ‘Hundreds of people are incarcarated,’ he said, ‘Not just journalists.’ He said the new Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia would press for an end to human rights violations in his country and for those responsible for such violations, to be brought to justice in fair trials.