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The Gambia: Blogger Arrested, then Freed As Online Outrage Escalates

Independent media reported on Nov. 8, 2014 that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) had detained Sait Matty Jaw, a blogger, social activist and an advocate for women’s and girls’ rights. The man was released on Nov. 12, 2014 without charge.

A history lecturer at the University of The Gambia, Jaw was reportedly picked up on the University’s Brikama campus on Nov. 5, 2014. The NIA is notorious for torturing suspects and imposing prolonged detentions without trial.

Gambian authorities neither confirmed nor denied arresting Jaw, who returned from Baku, Azerbaijan recently after attending the Global Youth Forum on youth policies around the world.

Gambia_MattyJaw

Sait Matty Jaw, from Facebook support page.

Under the constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, a person cannot be detained for more than 72 hours without being brought before a court. The law also requires that detainees be informed of the reasons for their arrest within three hours of their arrest. Jaw’s arrest comes at a time when the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, and Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez are visiting the country for the first time at government’s invitation.

Human rights organisations heavily criticised the country’s poor human rights record in the recently concluded universal periodic review in Geneva, Switzerland.

Free Sait Matty Jaw, a Facebook page created on Nov. 8 received more than 250 likes within two hours of its creation. Students, friends and fellow activists in The Gambia and abroad have flooded the page with expressions of outrage over his arrest. Isatou Jeng, a women’s and girls’ rights activist said:

I know how much he loves the Gambia and his passion to make the world a better place for all. #FreeSaitMattyJaw The Gambia needs him!!

Aisha Dabo, an exile Gambian journalist who created the Free Sait Matty Jaw page, wrote:

I call on Gambian authorities to free Sait Matty. I dont think there is any need to detain him if he is just helping NIA with their investigation #FreeSait . it is unfortunate that this youth who is contributing a lot to the country's development is detained as UN special rapporteurs on torture and executions are visiting the country…..the message It's the State's obligation to make sure citizens rights are upheld #freeSait no matter the alleged crime they have committed.

Ousman JC Darboe, a Gambian Facebook user, appealed to the country’s Youth Council leaders and youth group activists to rise against the arrest and detention:

My fellow Gambian youths activists, the leadership of Gambia youth council. are we going to became more powerless that we cannot even talk about the arrest of our iconic, inspiring youth leader who serve almost every youth platform in Gambia. Are we going to allow the culture of silence to overcome us for not to talk about the injustice and unlawful detention of Sait Matty Jaw. My fellow youths, we all need to remember that the only way to fight powerless and culture of silence is to gain a greater consciousnesses. Am I going to ask about our consciousnesses? I urge the Gambia youth council and all the youth activist group to send a clear message to the authority responsible for his arrest and detention for immediate release. Free Sait Matty Jaw

Family sources confirmed that Jaw was released just a week after his arrest and was issued no charges. In response, Omar Sambou, president of the University of The Gambia Students Union wrote on their Facebook page:

Alhamdulila, As said earlier, the Union and in constant consultation with the Administration and the Family of our beloved brother Sait Matty Jaw has been on the dialog. Sait is back home. I humbly thank you all for your understanding and patience. For those that have been insulting me based on your feelings i still beg for your forgiveness and never mean to hurt anyone. Thanks for your concerns. Lets all remember that for the Gambia our homeland, we strive and work and pray that all may live in unity, freedom and peace each day.

Sam Phatey, a Gambian social justice activist rejoiced over the release of Jaw and called for more efforts toward securing freedom for all political detainees and prisoners:

Confirmed! Sait Matty Jaw has been released now according to a close family source! FREE AT LAST! FREE AT LAST!! Sait Matty Jaw is FREE AT LAST!!! #HopeIsYou The fight continues – Free Momodou Sabally, Free Amadou Sanneh, Free Alhaji and Ebou, Free All Political Prisoners.

Sait Matty was arrested alongside two others (an unnamed Ghanian and Nigerian). It is not clear whether the two have also been released.

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