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Peaceful demonstrations must be allowed

May 16, 2012, 1:03 PM

People have different means of expressing their dissatisfaction over issues affecting them.

One such means is to organise a peaceful match or demonstration, as seen happening daily in countries all over the world.

Elsewhere, demonstrators use banners and posters, for instance, to express their dissatisfaction over certain issues such as a rise in the cost of living, corruption, mal-administration, poor education, lack of basic amenities and so on.

The aim of every peaceful match is to effect change peacefully.

However, in The Gambia even a peaceful demonstration without prior police clearance is forbidden by law, even though guaranteed by the constitution, which is supposed to be the supreme law of the land.

For instance, Section 25 1d of the constitution states very clearly that “every person shall have the right to freedom to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and without arms”.

To have a law requiring citizen to obtain a permit from the police before they could assemble and demonstrate peaceably is, in our view, contrary to the spirit of the country’s constitution;

It is also contrary to recommended best practice consistent with the internationally accepted requirement for good governance in all countries.

In fact, in some jurisdictions, all the would-be demonstrators need to do is to inform the police of their plans to demonstrate (so they are aware and could provide security if need be, and monitor to ensure its peaceful), but they would not be required to have a permit before they hit the streets singing and chanting with their banners.

This is why we want to invoke section 4: “This Constitution is the supreme law of The Gambia and any other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”.

Perhaps it is time for citizens to come together and follow the recommendation of section 5, which is whenever this happens, then action should be brought at the Supreme Court of The Gambia “for a declaration to that effect”.

That demonstrations are not allowed in this country was why, in April 2000, a demonstration by young Gambian students resulted in the loss of many lives, and serious injury to many of them.

In fact, some of the injured are still struggling with life-long disability from the gunshot wounds, when the security forces used live bullets on the demonstrators to force them out of the streets.

In some countries, peaceful demonstrations are one of the best and most cost-efficient ways to let the public and authorities know your grievances.

However, in this country, groups are denied clearance to even demonstrate or protest peacefully except, of course, if they are parading to praise-sing the powers that be, and their “achievements”.

Peaceful demonstrations are really meant to help people to let off steam.

In the neighbouring Republic of Senegal, we see people regularly matching in the streets of Dakar and other cities across the country, without any hindrance.

Peaceful demonstrations are peaceful tools used by powerless citizens seeking redress.

In our view, to deny them this opportunity is a serious suppression of the human right of citizens with grievances to assemble peacefully, and petition their government to look into their problems.