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Gambian Prisoner Release a Welcome Move

FILE - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh arrives for a summit in Abuja, Nigeria, Feb. 27, 2014.

The United States notes President Jammeh’s decision to pardon and release at least 200 prisoners.

The government of the Gambia has released more than 200 prisoners, including 31 jailed for treason for their alleged involvement in efforts to depose the West African nation’s long-serving president, Yahya Jammeh. At the same time, several individuals remain arbitrarily detained or missing in the country, including radio journalist Alagie Abdoulie Ceesay who disappeared on July 17.

President Jammeh announced their release himself in a speech July 24 commemorating his 21 years in office. Among those being released were a former justice minister and former police chief jailed for alleged corruption and drug trafficking, respectively. Those linked to a failed coup in December remain imprisoned, although several of their family members were freed, officials said.

Human rights groups have charged the Gambian government with repressive tactics for stifling political activism and dissent. In December, Gambia’s eligibility was suspended for trade benefits under our nation’s African Growth and Opportunities Act because of the country’s poor record on human rights.

The United States notes President Jammeh’s decision to pardon and release at least 200 prisoners, and welcomes in particular the release, after a lengthy period of detention without charge, family members of the December 30, 2014 coup plotters.

We call on The Gambia to respect its human rights obligations and to release all other prisoners currently being held without charge for longer than the 72-hour period established by The Gambia’s constitution.

Meanwhile, the United States remains deeply concerned about the whereabouts of Mr. Ceesay, the missing Gambian radio journalist. He disappeared on July 17, days after being released from a two-week long period of arbitrary detention during which he was reportedly tortured. We urge the Government of The Gambia to promptly locate Mr. Ceesay, return him to his family and loved ones, investigate the circumstances of his previous abduction and detention, and hold accountable any individuals found to be responsible for violating Mr. Ceesay’s rights.

The United States is committed to supporting freedom of expression and the rule of law, and takes very seriously this and other reports of abusive conduct by Gambian security forces.