by Madi Jobarteh
The news that three Gunjur youths are charged with incitement to violence, criminal trespass and conspiracy to commit crime is indeed outrageous and the charges are totally and wholly bogus and must be dropped. The police cannot arrest citizens for merely protesting peacefully and then wait for more than 14 days only to charge them with such inconceivable crimes. These charges are scandalous. The police must be seen to protect rights and not to damage them.
We must not allow the Gambia Government to turn citizens' legitimate concerns and grievances into a criminal act. When citizens express themselves by speech or writing or assembly it must be seen as a legal act intended to hold the Government to account. Those actions therefore cannot be transformed into an illegal activity and the protesters turned into criminals.
The youth of Gunjur have a legitimate concern for which they have a right to express themselves peacefully without violence or the use of arms. The beach in Gunjur is the birth right of the people of Gunjur for which they have a legal and moral obligation to protect. Hence when youths notice certain actors and their activities endangering the beach, the youth have a duty to stand up to protect the beach and that is their fundamental right and duty.
When such situations happen, the expectation is that a responsible Government will engage the community to address their concerns in the best interest of the environment and the people. To use force and violence by way of arrest, detention and court charges is a wrong move that can only generate more public grievances and endanger the peace and stability of the Gambia as a whole.
To charge these Gunjur youths will not address the situation surrounding Golden Lead in Gunjur. The Government has to have the courage and honesty to respond to the issues and concerns of the people by way of dialogue and respecting civil liberties if it wants to see peace, stability and progress prevail in this country. If these youths are convicted and sent to jail, rest assured many more Gambians will rise up to challenge the Government and Golden Lead and the Gambia Government will not have the capacity to contain such uprising.
Citizens have no weapons other than their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. These are the only weapons in the hands of citizens to defend their rights, demand public services and hold the State to account. When these weapons are unreasonably and unfairly restricted as it is happening right now in Gunjur then it means impunity, corruption and violations will become the order of the day. The 22-year misrule of Yaya Jammeh is enough lessons to learn from.
I therefore call on the Gambia Government to drop all of these bogus charges against these youths and respect and protect the rights of youths of Gunjur to protest against Golden Lead or any other issues of concern to them. Protest cannot be criminalised. Protesters cannot be turned into criminals.
For the Gambia Our Homeland.