Gambia election: Government shuts down internet communications

ARTICLE 19 condemns yesterday’s government-ordered shutdown of Internet and international calls in the Gambia ahead of the crucial 1 December presidential election and calls on the government to end the blackout to ensure Gambians are able to exercise their rights at this vital time.

The shutdown not only deprives Gambians of their ability to communicate with the outside world, but of their rights to freely express themselves online and access vital information around the election period.

The Internet has provided a significant platform for Gambians to share their political views and discuss the human rights situation in the country in the run-up to the election.

“This shut down is a deliberate attempt to further isolate Gambians and another negative set back in a country where independent broadcasting is still not allowed”, said Fatou Jagne Senghor, ARTICLE 19’s Director for West Africa.

Gambians went to the polls today to choose between incumbent President Yahya Jammeh, coalition candidate Adama Barrow and Mama Kandeh. Independent electoral observers from regional organisations including ECOWAS have not been allowed to oversee the process, although some African Union observers will be present. Many opposition parties have denounced the unfair electoral process, but citizens are still determined to use their constitutional rights to have their say.

Since April 2016, political tensions have been high and dozens of opposition members, including Ousainou Darbo, the Leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), have been arrested for peaceful protests. Two of those arrested died in state custody, and many opposition members are still on trial.

In the weeks leading up to the election, three journalists and the head of the national television company GRTS have been arrested. Two of them are still in custody.

It is feared that if the current crackdown on public space is not altered, reprisals on dissidents in the weeks to come may increase.

“Denying Internet access in this way is a clear violation of Gambians rights to freedom of expression and information, which are essential to democratic elections”, said Jagne.