Authorities in the tiny West African nation of the Gambia have fired live rounds in their efforts to disperse peaceful protests, according to participants and journalists.
A para-military force called the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) reportedly beat protesters while arresting others in an attempt to break up demonstrations sympathetic to detained main opposition leader Ousainou Darboe. Amateur video shared on social media show police agents beating people while popping sounds — allegedly gunfire — is heard.
— The Fatu Network (@FatuNetwork) May 9, 2016
The protesters were marching from a court session featuring Darboe and his United Democratic Party (UDP) members, who were arrested on 16 April — another day when authorities reportedly used live ammunition.
— Paul (@pexie) 16 de abril de 2016
Darboe had picked up the mantle of protest following news that Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the youth head of the UDP, and two other UDP members died in police custody. Sandeng and the others had been demonstrating 48 hours before in support of electoral reforms and the resignation of President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994.
The rallies have continued even after Darboe's arrest. Twitter users shared images of protesters’ t-shirts stained with blood after the most recent crackdown:
— Juka Ceesay (@jukacares) May 9, 2016
— Alhagie Jobe (@freejobe39) May 9, 2016
In April 2000, Gambian security forces opened fire at student demonstrators, killing up to 14 including a journalist and a Red Cross volunteer. With that grim history in mind, activists and human rights organisations are calling on the international community to do something to protect the rights of people to assembly and peaceful protests:
— Oumie Andrews (@OumieAndrews) 9 de mayo de 2016
On 5 May, a high court judge denied Darboe and 19 others bail in the name of national security and the need to prevent the detainees from fleeing. The case has been adjourned to 16 May 2016.