Sunday, January 3, 2010

Our Citizens Have Right To Live In Freedom

A fundamental right of citizens the world over is to live in freedom, which means to go bed in the full conviction of getting up the next morning to go about one’s day to day pursuits, without any kind of unwanted hindrance, especially by agents of the state.

The exception can amount to either having one’s right unlawfully assailed by a fellow citizen(s) or by the state, on suspicious of involvement in one kind of criminal activity or the other. In that particular case, there are clear cut guidelines which the state actor had to adhere to in order to be entitled to use the power at its disposal, to curb the citizens right to live in open freedom. In other words, one cannot detain a citizen without following the due process of law as clearly defined in the country’s constitution and other laws.

Curtailment of a citizen’s right to live freely or denial of his right to lead a normal life even for an hour or less makes it incumbent on the power concerned to explain the cause of such a far reaching act. The one engaged in such an act of arrest must clearly identify himself or herself and state it if the citizen concerned is being arrested. The citizen should be warned right away that anything he might say could be used against him in a court of law.

As soon as is feasible, he should within hours of being arrested, be told the reason(s) for the action and be informed of his rights to have a lawyer present during interrogation. These are provisions which are entrenched in the supreme law of the land, the constitution. It is however an open question if our law enforcement officers are always scrupulous in observing these legal provisions. We believe going by the record of the evidence which has surfaced in our courts again and again, there is sufficient ground to say that the constitutional provision is not always adhered to buy our law enforcement agents.

But failure does not only end there. So many times and so many people have been arrested and kept in detention at the police and at the National Intelligence Agency for well over the 72 hours limit imposed by the constitution. This mandatory provision is normally flouted on the grounds that the release of such people would lead to their interfering with potential witnesses or because it is said investigations are still going on. A good example is the detention of journalist Lamin Fatty for 63 days before he was brought to trail and releases on bail. Fatou Jaw Manneh, another detentioned journalist arrested and detained, also had to languish under detention well beyond the 72 hours limit set.

Yet for our sovereign citizens of The Gambia, the men and women who should have every right which belong to a first class citizen, the set obstacles by the state and its agents do not end there. Indeed, a recent newspaper publication has depicted how serious a situation these illegal detentions have grown into.

The papers cited the cases of eight persons who had served in the armed forces and the security services who had been held for more than a year without being tried by a competent court of law.

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