Banjul – Gambian police arrested a university lecturer and kept him in overnight detention for questioning the president’s ability to maintain national security in a newspaper interview, he told AFP on Thursday.
Campaigners said the arrest was a worrying echo of restrictions on freedom of speech under the former regime of Yahya Jammeh, who was forced to leave the West African country for exile in Equatorial Guinea a year ago.
The new government has repeatedly promised to protect human rights, including freedom of expression and press freedom, which were tightly controlled under Jammeh.
Ismaila Ceesay, an outspoken political science lecturer at the University of The Gambia, was arrested on Wednesday afternoon and charged with incitement to violence after several hours of questioning. He was released on Thursday morning.
“I was released this morning. My lawyer said they have told him that they have dropped the charges and that they would apologise,” he told AFP.
A nightime vigil for his release was held by journalists and campaigners outside the police station where Ceesay was questioned, along with a concerted social media campaign against his arrest.
Ceesay had recently given an interview to the Voice newspaper in which he said pockets of the Gambian military “feel rejected by the administration” which could “cause pockets of mutiny”.
President Adama Barrow has relied on Senegalese troops deployed by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) for the last year as he reforms the country’s security forces, sections of which are believed to maintain loyalty to Jammeh.
“Did (Barrow) one day visit any military barracks since he came to power? That should have been his first mission,” he told the Gambian daily.
The police told him that “military officers could use that statement to say that if Dr Ceesay could say this, it means they can do it,” he told AFP.
A thwarted coup plot in July and the arrival of two former Jammeh generals through Banjul’s airport this month without anyone sounding the alarm has revealed dangerous lapses in the country’s security apparatus.