Democracy ALERT: Marr Nyang, Gambian Democracy Advocate and Hurford Youth Fellow was Detained for Attempting to Hold a Peaceful Sit-Down Protest

April 30, 2024

On April 21, 2024, Gambian Police arrested and detained Marr Nyang, Executive Director of Gambia Participates and Hurford Youth Fellow, and 11 other civil society leaders for attempting to hold a mere sit-down demonstration against the corruption and inept management at the Gambia Ferry Service. The poor and inept management of the Ferry Services has been causing a lot of suffering to many ordinary Gambians and non-Gambians who rely on the ferry services on a daily basis as their primary means of transport to get to work, school or access health services in the city of Banjul and beyond where most social amenities are located.

Prior to the arrest, Gambia Participates, and the National Youth Parliament jointly submitted a written request to the Gambia Police Force to hold a peaceful procession from the Independence Drive, Banjul towards the Gambia Ports Authority where the Gambia Ferry Service office is housed. However, the police did not respond to their application for a permit to protest against the inept perennial ferry crisis at Gambia Ferry Services.

In the absence of a permit from the Gambia Police Force, Marr Nyang and other civil society actors decided to hold a peaceful Sit-Down strike at the Arch Pavilion in Banjul, a public place that is open to the public without requiring a police permit. Upon arrival and sitting peacefully under the Arch Pavilion, the sit-down protesters were ordered by the police to leave the premises immediately. Marr and his colleagues complied. During this period, there was a presence of armed Police Intervention Unit (PIU) personnel at the vicinity. They were later arrested in Banjul, 1.7km away from the Arch Pavilion by armed PIU Officers. Four (4) other protesters in Barra, a community which is hard-hit by the ferry crisis were also arrested. While all of those arrested in Banjul were released on bail after being detained for a few hours at the police headquarters in Banjul, they have been charged with 3 alleged offences: common nuisance, unlawful assembly, and disobeying lawful order. The protesters strongly denied the charges.

Marr Nyang and others have been asked to present themselves on a daily basis to the Police Headquarters in Banjul, a common tactic that the Gambia police have used in the past to frustrate human rights defenders. The essence of bail is to ensure the person bailed reports to the police or court as and when he or she is required to do so. In this instance, it is clear that Marr and his colleagues are unlikely to abscond and therefore, asking them to report daily is not only unreasonable, but also disproportionate. Marr and his colleagues have at all times, and in good faith sought to exercise their constitutional rights to assemble lawfully and peacefully as citizens, within the confines of the law.

The World Movement for Democracy urges Gambian authorities to respect people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly and to lift all charges against Marr Nyang and the rest of the civil society leaders arrested on April 21. The detention and charge of human rights defenders and activists for merely participating at a sit-down peaceful protest is a cause for concern for country like Gambia, a country which has transitioned from a dictatorship to an emerging democracy which currently enjoys respect for its peaceful transition.