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Gambia says Amnesty International activists are spies

9 October 2007 at 23:58 | 703 views

By Scott A. Morgan.

Reports from the West African region indicate that two researchers from the Human Rights Group Amnesty International were detained over the weekend in the Gambia. In what can best be described as a further insult the researchers Tania Bernath who is from the United States and is the Acting Director for Africa and Ayodele Ameen a Nigerian National who happens to be the campaign director for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia and a local representative from a private newspaper have been charged with espionage.

In recent weeks there has been a flurry of activity by the National Intelligence Agency which handles internal security within the impoverished West African Nation. Several rebels from the Casamance region of Senegal have been arrested and charged with terrorism. This is just the latest act in a military action that began earlier this year in Guniea-Bissau and has spread into both Senegal and Gambia. Also there has been a shakeup within the upper echelons of the Gambian military as well.

Amnesty has an impeccable reputation pertaining to its focus. It won the Nobel Peace Prize back in 1977. It does not solicit funds from any Government entity. It has criticised republics, Social-Democratic states and one-party dictatorships. It sent this team to ascertain the whereabouts of two individuals Kanyiba Kanyi a Catholic Relief Worker and Ousman Rambo Jatta a councillor for Bakau. They have been held incommunicado for several months now. There were also reports that the team was conducting training for good governance.

For the last year there have been concerns regarding governance in the Gambia. Journalists have been persecuted for printing the truth or challenging authority. There has been troop movements in the middle of the night. These are just some of the concerns that the political opposition have been expressing through online news portals. The detention of the staff of Amnesty International could increase the scrutiny of human rights activists within the Gambia.

The motivation for the arrests cannot be more plain. In some TV and movie plots, agents from the CIA have used human rights activists as cover for intelligence assets. It is clear that this situation is a case of life imitating art. The current regime in Banjul does not wish for its activites to be noticed by the international community. This is a tactic used by President Mugabe in Zimbabwe and the military junta in Myanmar. They have to control over the information that the public has access to so that they can remain in power unchallenged.

There are plenty of opportunities for the international community to work for change now in the Gambia. Issues regarding freedom of the press, arbitrary detentions, the Casamamce treason trials and the arrest of the amnesty activists. The Gambian government acted on the belief that if these voices were silenced than all would remain well with their activites. This step has badly misfired. And now the deluge of demands for the release of these people has begun.

The Author comments on US Policy towards Africa and Human Rights. He can be contacted at .