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.
MPs in Westminster and Holyrood are fighting for human rights in the Gambia. The tiny West African country is known for the sunshine holidays it offers UK citizens
. But it has recently activated the death penalty and is the subject of a report from Amnesty International which says abuses include arbitrary arrests, torture, incommunicado detention, unfair trials, rape, disappearance and extra-judicial executions.
In the House of Commons, Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar’s Early Day Motion has attracted at least 24 cross-party signators. It calls on the coalition Government to place international pressure on the Gambian government to uphold fundamental human rights.
The motion applauds members of the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia for continuing to raise awareness of the issue. Said Labour MP Sarwar, who sits on the Commons International Development Select Committee: ‘I was pleased to facilitate a meeting with the Foreign Office, the all -Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights and representatives of the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia.
‘That Campaign is doing great work to draw attention to a government that rules by intimidation, torture and killing. It is crucial that the Coalition Government does everything it can to place international pressure on the Gambian government. I have asked questions about challenges facing Gambian citizens in their country and abroad and I will continue to press the coalition government.’
In Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament passed a motion condemning the catalogue of human rights abuses in Gambia. Proposed by Green Party MSP, Patrick Harvie and supported by more than a dozen others from all parties, it highlighted the case of missing journalist Ebrima Manneh who disappeared after allegedly attempting to publish an article criticising the Gambian Government for violations of human rights.
Expressing support of Gambians who are resident in Scotland but who might feel unable to speak out about the situation in their country for fear of the consequences, the motion urges the UK and Scottish Governments to ensure that international pressure is put on the Gambian Government in defence of human rights. For further information check website: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/Apps2/business/motions/Default.aspx?motionid=20216
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.
The Foreign Office have offered support to the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia (SCHRG)- a campaign launched in Glasgow in September.
On October 18, Arthur West, Chairman of SCHRG, wrote to UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, highlighting concerns over disappeared people in the Gambia, including journalists, civillians and politicians. The SCHRG believe security agents of the Gambian Government were involved in these cases of unexplained disappearance.
In response to Mr West’s letter, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated: ‘We share your concerns about the cases of the individuals you have named who have reportedly disappeared in the Gambia and would like to assure you that the United Kingdom Government does regularly raise concerns over human rights, including the disappearance of individuals,with the Government of Gambia’. The response adds: ‘We continue to press for an independent investigation.’
Said Arthur: ‘Our Campaign is pleased to note that the FCO shares our cocerns about the very worrying human rights situation in the Gambia.’
The Goverment’s response to SCHRG, launched at the Scottish Trade Union Centre in Glasgow’s West End, highlighted the case of missing journalist Ebrima Manneh- who vanished in the Gambia after allegedly attempting to publish an article condeming the Gambian Government over violations of human rights.
Alieu Ceesay, SCHRG Information Officer and exiled Gambian journalist, told LOCAL NEWS: ‘Ebrima is one of many people missing. We applaud the FCO for pushing for an independent investigation. People cannot disapear from the face of the earth like this. I appeal to the new UK Government to review their relations with the Gambian government,a government that rule by touture,intimidation and killing. Gambian people deserve free media and to live in a society without fear with open debates and freedom of expression.’
If you want to know more about SCHRG email firstname.lastname@example.org
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.