Thursday, August 13, 2015

Toward a fairer and equitable approach to the prisoner release scheme

Some of the "pardoned" prisoners in  The Gambia
The contention that the case of Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay of Teranga FM radio did not become a cause celebre because the "case did not go viral" in social media parlance implies that we have not been doing enough - advocacy-wise - about his case. It is a valid point and, in my view, deserves further examination.

To do a reasonable job of analyzing the issue , we must first ask the question: Was it a deliberate and conscious act of omission? We do not want to think so because true and genuine human rights activists do not discriminate. We have seen it demonstrated numerous times.  Activists were the ones, in a sea of mullahs, who stood their ground and led the fight in support of the LGBT community when assumed members were being arrested and tortured by Jammeh - assumed, because agents of the security forces were roaming the tourist hotel areas and arresting anyone identified as gay by police informers.

If the act of omission was not deliberate in the case of Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay, then it must have been something else. That something else is what all of us should focus our attention to, and that is the fact that Jammeh is arresting, abducting and incarcerating Gambians at a faster rate than we can keep up with. 

The case of Seedy Jaiteh, GAMTEL's Director of Human Resources, is a case in point. He was taken into custody by the NIA over 400 days ago, and thanks to Foroyaa, we had all forgotten about him. But how many Seedy Jaitehs are there? No one can say with any degree of accuracy. The best we can do is - guess.

This brings me to a way forward. 

First, let us demand from the regime of Yaya Jammeh a comprehensive list of all those he claimed to have released and pardoned. I do not see how we can really start ensuring equality of treatment of
Jammeh's victims if we do not have any idea of the magnitude of the problem. 

Second, the list is a necessary first step to accounting for every single life threatened or taken away by this vile regime.

Seedy Jaiteh's family is wondering about his whereabouts. They were expecting him to be released because he appears to have fulfilled all of the criteria outlined by the regime, and yet he has not returned home. Where is he? Without an official (gazetted) list, who can say for certain where Seedy Jaiteh is. What if the regime claims that he's was among the "three hundred and something" prisoners released, where is the proof to dispute the regime's claim, even if the claim is spurious.

We have seen a list of 20 Gambians whose release is being demanded from the Jammeh regime because the assumption is that they are alive and still in Mile II - a reasonable and plausible assumption. However, we find this to be a flawed approach that is open to criticism.  How do we know there are only 20 and not 21 or 50 or 100 lesser known Gambians and foreigners languishing in jail for a longer period and under harsher conditions than the 20 prisoners listed. The fairer and more inclusive approach is to demand a comprehensive list from the regime and even there, we may still not be able to account for every victim of the Jammeh regime - EVER.  But, at least, it is a start.