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).
Westminster MP Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) is the latest to bid for Labour Party leadership in Scotland. He’s set his sights on the deputy leader post and joins Westminster senior colleague Tom Harris (Glasgow South) and MSPs Johann Lamont (Pollok) and Ken Mackintosh (Eastwood) who had earlier declared their interest in being leader.
Sarwar, who has been a constant supporter of the Glasgow inspired campaign for human rights in the Gambia, put his hat into the ring this weekend in time for the Labour Party conference in Liverpool (Sat 24/Sun 25 September) when the Scottish rule changes will be debated. He said: ‘I want to work with the Party leader to make sure we are an electable force again, working for the whole of Scotland.’ He pledged to travel throughout the whole of Scotland to listen to people ‘from all walks of life’. He said the vision had to be one of confidence in the future of Scotland. With ‘honest analysis’ of where Labour is in Scotland and what its message is and how it project it, he said: ‘I want to make sure we are an electable force again, working for the whole of Scotland.’
Labour Party rule changes allowed Westminster MP Tom Harris to declare his interest in the campaign which had previously been restricted to MSPs. Aiming to replace present Scottish Labour Party leader Iain Gray - who sought refuge in a sandwich shop when confronted with pensioners asking him to challenge the Tory tax cuts – Tom Harris was clear about his strategy. ‘We need to appeal to people beyond the Labour Party. The battle to win votes will be won in the workplace, the high street, the tv studio, the council chamber, the board room and in the home, not just in a single debating chamber. As a Party we need to have a strong vision and a positive outlook to appeal to new voters.’ A constant Twitter contributor, has already taken his campaign out and is meeting groups of young people unconnected with politics, who use the social media networks he is already familiar with.
At Holyrood, Johann Lamont has been a noteable fighter for the Labour Party cause. And locally in Pollok, she has been an active elected representative. She said: ‘First, we have to re-build confidence and trust across Scotland. It can’t be a case of Labour telling others what to do. It has to be Labour listening. These are tough times and there are lots of challenges. We have to pull together and we need a strong Labour voice to protect the young and the vulnerable and to hold the Government to account.’
Ken MacIntosh was born in Inverness of a Gaelic speaking father from Skye and a mother from Peebles in the Borders. Early in September he led a campaign against a waste incinerator in Newton Mearns.
He said a new, positive, vision for a strong Scotland is needed. ‘Devolution is the reason I got into politics. I believe the Scottish Parliament is there to build a stronger Scotland, but our Party needs to do more to harness the potential of devolution to improve the lives of the Scottish people – this is my priority if elected leader.’
He added: ‘It’s time to change the Scottish Labour Party. We need to be less top-down, have a strong positive vision and we must use the new young talent we now have. This contest is not just about leading the Scottish Labour Party. I want to win the hearts and minds of Scots to win the next election and become the next First Minister.’
A special Scottish Labour Party conference will be held on 29 October when the formal campaigns will be launched. The new Leader of the Scottish Labour Party will be announced by 17 December.
The Scottish/Gambia Human Rights campaign will have a speaker at the Irvine May Day rally on Saturday 7 May. In Glasgow there will be a stall in Buchanan Street on Sunday 22 May at 1pm to mark International Day of Action and a rally in George Square on Friday 22 July.
A video of a debate on the issues of human rights in the Gambia at the STUC’s annual meeting can be viewed on YouTube.
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.
In a whirlwind day in London, representatives of the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia made ‘useful progress’, according to Vice Chair Austin Sheridan.
Through Westminster MP Anas Sarwar, who has kept his pre-election promise to support the Campaign, Austin Sheridan, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) and committee members Alieu Ceesay and Grace Franklin met with Parliamentary coordinator for Human Rights, Nicole Piche, Paul Welch who is team leader for the West Africa desk and Agnes Annels from the Foreign Commonwealth Office Human Rights department.
The Campaign updated the officials on their events, past and future, to tell people in Scotland about the increasing number of Gambians ‘disappearing’ in the Gambia, or who are imprisoned and tortured because they say something which offends the President.
They include journalists, opposition party leaders and many ordinary citizens.
The Scottish Campaign is backed by the National Union of Journalists and Amnesty International which has published a report on the situation in the West Africa country which is a popular holiday destination.
A further meeting in the offices of Amnesty International enabled the Scottish Campaign to see where their work fitted into the 17 cities around the world which are also active in pressing for Human Rights to be restored in the Gambia. Until recently, Gambia had a Constitution and a Legislature which protected its citizens. But increasingly draconian laws and edicts from the President’s Palace – including the activating of the death penalty this month – have brought fear to the nation. The legal system has been corrupted with mercenary judges from Nigeria hired by the President to impose his will.
Currently the President Yahya Jammeh, is encouraging hereditary Chiefs to campaign for him to be made King of Gambia.
The Scottish Campaign’s next public meeting will be in Edinburgh on Thursday 16 December at the Justice and Peace Centre and hosted by that organisation.
In the Scottish Parliament, Patrick Harvie MSP has put forward a motion condemning the catalogue of human rights abuses in Gambia including the case of the missing journalist Ebrima Manneh and urges government pressure to be put on the Gambian Government in defence of human rights. By Thursday 18 November, fifteen MSPs had signed the motion.
Patrick Harvie, Scottish Green Party leader and MSP for Glasgow, has pledged to support the newly formed Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia (SCHRG).
Patrick met SCHRG Chair Arthur West, and other campaign members, in his Glasgow office on Monday 1 November. Arthur told Patrick that the the campaign was set up in September this year ‘in response to a critical human rights situation in Gambia where problems include enforced disappearances, extra-judicial execution and detention without trial.’
He added: ‘We are currently affiliating with Trade Unions and voluntary organisations as well as contacting MPs, MSPs and MEPs to solicit their support about the the situation in Gambia. We are anxious to get as much support as we can.’
Patrick, Vice Convenor of the Cross Party Committee on Human Rights in the Scottish Parliament, pledged to put a motion to Hollyrood concerning the plight of Gambia and its people and to push for the issue to be raised in Westminister.
Said Patrick: ‘Major international human rights organisations have highlighted the catalogue of human rights abuses in Gambia, including torture, secret detention, lack of fair trials, and more. It’s vital that we in Scotland should support people from Gambia who are living here, as well as put pressure on the UK Government to make sure that international concern is brought to bear in defence of human rights.
‘We wouldn’t accept harassment of democratic activists, killing of journalists, threats to kill people for being gay, or any of these other abuses in this country – we should be equally unwilling to accept them around the world.’
Alieu Ceesay, SCHRG Information Officer and exiled Gambian Journalist, told Patrick of human rights violation, torture, and unexplained dissapearancs in the Gambia. SCHRG believes that the Gambian Government are implicit in these crimes. Said Alieu: ‘In Gambia today, fear rules and all public protests have stopped. Self censorship of the media has become the rule rather than the exception.The human rights community in the country is very weak and opposition voices, though once vibrant, have been silenced by threats and violence.’
SCHRG has appealed to the Scottish Government to call on the Gambia government to protect and respect the human rights of the Gambian people.
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.
by Elyas Hussain
Glaswegians crossing George Square on Thursday 22 July got an insight into human rights abuses in the Gambia.
A rally, on what was Gambia’s national Freedom Day, highlighted the travesty of conditions there.
Co-ordinated by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International and supported by the National Union of Journalists, the gathering heard from Labour MP for Glasgow Central, Anas Sarwar. He said: ‘I am pressing the Westminster government to address the human rights issues in the Gambia. And I am fully behind the Gambian journalists and their supporters who demonstrated in Glasgow today.’
Glasgow was one of 19 cities throughout the world which publicised the harrowing and deteriorating situation in the Gambia.
There were powerful and impassioned speeches from: Pete Murray, President of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ); John Matthews, Chair of the Glasgow NUJ branch; Arthur West, Amnesty International Chairperson in Ayrshire; Jock Morris of the Campaign to Welcome Refugees; Alieu Badara Ceesay, exiled Gambian journalist.
Local citizens and members of the supporting organisations were urged to continue to demonstrate until the rule of fear in Gambia is stopped and the rule of law is re-instituted.
Glasgow is one of 16 centres around the world which will highlight human rights abuse in the Gambia on Thursday 22 July.
Gambian born journalist, Alieu Ceesay, is leading the Glasgow campaign through the National Union of Journalists and Amnesty International.
Said Alieu: ‘We will hold a vigil at the Donald Dewar statue in Buchanan Street and invite passers -by to sign a petition,’
Added Alieu: ‘Currently, there is a harrowing human rights situation for Gambian people. Citizens are arrested daily. People disappear. There are summary executions, detention without trial, curtailment of civil liberties and a compromised judiciary. Ebrima Manneh, a journalist who worked with me on the same daily newspaper was arrested by security agents in July 2006 and has never been seen again. Deyda Hydara, the editor and co-proprietor of another daily paper was shot dead and in July of last year, six of my colleagues were jailed on charges of sedition for simply criticising the President in print ‘
The well-documented facts are listed in reports by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.
Already, newly elected Westminster MP Anas Sarwar, has taken an interest in Alieu’s campaign. Last year, when the NUJ held a similar vigil, he attended the event and subsequently, when he was campaigning to be elected, he promised to help. Said Mr Sarwar: ‘I will raise this in Westminster and will bring it before the International Development Select Committee.’ Elected by Labour MPs as one of the dozen people on the influential cross-party committee, Mr Sarwar will have a powerful say in its work of scrutinising expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for International Development. That Department has an office in Gambia and recently invested £3million in development projects there. The situation has also been recognised by the Commonwealth of which Gambia is a member. At the last Heads of Commonwealth meeting – in Trinidad earlier this year – a synchronised campaign by its Human Rights committee, successfully embarrassed Gambian President Yaya Jammeh into not attending but sending his Foreign Minister,Ousman Jammeh, instead.