Gambia: Opposition leader Ousainou Darboe and 18 others released on bail

The leader of the Gambian opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Ousainou Darboe, was released on bail by the Banjul Court of Appeal on 5 December, along with 18 others, pending the hearing of their appeal of the three-year jail term they were handed in July. Darboe had spent nearly eight months in prison after being detained for a peaceful protest demanding that the remains of party member Solo Sandeng, who was tortured to death in police custody, be handed over.

The decision to grant bail came on the heels of President Jammeh’s election defeat to opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow on 2 December, and his surprising decision to concede after 22 years in power. The results are hoped to usher in a new era for people in the country: after decades of repressive rule and human rights violations, Gambians are finally able to openly speak their minds.

As the bail application was heard, crowds gathered outside the court, and volunteers offered their identity cards as sureties to bail the prisoners. The families of the detained, and Gambians from across society, young and old, attended the courthouse to witness the historic moment. Most had one thing to say: “It’s a new Gambia, it’s a free Gambia”. As the newly freed prisoners were leaving the courthouse, the crowd sang the national anthem and shouted “Free Gambia”.

2016 will be remembered as the year of historic firsts in the Gambia: for the first time ever, the opposition united behind a single candidate; it achieved the first victory of the opposition in the polls against a long-serving head of State; and it was the first peaceful concession of electoral defeat.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the historic election result, and calls on the government to drop all charges against Ousanou Darbo and other UDP members, and release all remaining political prisoners.