The aftermath of the failed coup in the Gambia: Arrests and detentions continue

Published: 4 Feb 2015
By: Djibril Balde

On 30 December 2014, some members of the Gambian opposition and dissidents in the Diaspora took up arms with the aim of overthrowing the regime of President Yahya Jammeh. The coup was foiled, but the attempt has triggered a crackdown on real and perceived political opponents and worsened the already serious human rights situation.

On 1 January 2015, in an interview with national media, President Jammeh showed the sophisticated automatic weapons and explosives used by insurgents. He accused the US, UK and Senegal of complicity with the insurgents. However, a few days later he said: “When we mentioned those countries that supported these people (the attackers) and where they came from, we mentioned Britain… I apologise to Britain because as far as the investigations are concerned, up to this stage, there is no evidence of British government’s involvement, for which I apologise to the British High Commissioner. [1]

Any attempt to seize power through unconstitutional means, especially through violence, is condemnable. However, it is clear that, until the human rights situation in Gambia changes for the better and peaceful dissent is both tolerated and addressed, the conditions will remain ripe for violent action. The Gambian people have been suppressed for too long and their rights have been repeatedly violated.

Many of the participants in the coup were killed [2] and a Gambian activist monitoring the situation in the country reported that at least 22 relatives of suspected coup participants have been detained for questioning, in addition to several security and military officials. Indiscriminate arrests and detention of innocent family members of suspected insurgents are still ongoing, and other relatives of those involved (or suspected of being involved) have fled the Gambia fearing arrest by the National Intelligence Agency. IRRI is assisting some of those who have reached Senegal.

It was also reported that Guinea-Bissau had detained several Gambians suspected of participating in the coup, an allegation that Guinea-Bissau has denied. In a video posted on Youtube on December 29, the eve of the coup attempt against Gambian President, Sheikh Sidya Bayo, a Gambian opposition leader based in Senegal, called his fellow Gambians to overthrow Jammeh’s regime. He was arrested in Dakar on 3 January on charges of disturbing public order and violating Senegalese laws relating to entry to, and residence in, the country, and was deported to France on 14 January, as he has dual Gambian and French citizenship. His lawyer advocated that Senegal should not deport Bayo to the Gambia where his life will be in danger because death penalty is still exercised there.

Addressing his troops at a “loyalty rally” on January 10, President Jammeh said “I will not change, I would rather die than the support vices that would offend the Almighty Allah in the name of freedom. There is no freedom in vice… in criminal behaviour…in satanic attitudes’’.[3]

In light of the continuing crackdown on human rights and political activists in the Gambia, IRRI calls on countries in the sub-region to ensure that those who are coming from the Gambia are able to make requests for asylum and any other relevant protection under international law through a fair, efficient and accessible process. In addition, any requests for extradition should be treated with extreme care, not least in light of the government of the Gambia’s continued and frequent application of the death penalty.

Gambian civil society organisations have announced that they will hold massive demonstrations in the Gambia, the UK, Senegal and the USA to express their outrage at the continuing human rights violations in the Gambia. We urge the government of the Gambia to respond positively to these protests by recommitting to its human rights obligations under international and African human rights law and ensuring that, in particular, they respect international standards in relation to arrest, detention and fair trial.

The international community, and in particular African states, should intervene with the government of the Gambia to pressure them to ensure that any investigations, and subsequent arrests, related to the coup attempt are carried out in conformity with international law and that the human rights of all accused are respected. As it is based in the Gambia, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has a particular obligation to monitor the human rights situation on the ground and demand that the Gambian government respect human rights standards laid out in the African conventions in general and ACHPR Resolutions No. 134 and No. 145 on Gambia in particular.

In the longer term, President Jammeh should open up frank negotiations with his internal and external opposition and the Gambian civil society organisations under the auspices of the African Union and the United Nations in order to ensure a more open political environment that will reduce the attractiveness of violence as a means of political expression.

[1] “Gambia: President Jammeh Apologises to Britain,” The Point (the Gambia), 12 January 2015, available at

[2] “Terrorists plan to destabilize Gambia Exposed,” Daily Observer (the Gambia), 08 January 2015, available at

[3] “’I will not change’ – President Jammeh tells security forces,” Gambia Affairs, 11 January 2015, available at

Programmes: Resolving Displacement
Regions: Western Africa, Gambia
Type: IRRI Blog