Posted: 12:43 am ET
The US Embassy in Banjul issued a security message informing U.S. citizens in the Gambia that post will be closed on June 9 for non-essential services due to the removal of police protection by the host government. The short message does not include the reason for the removal of police protection. The U.S. recently granted asylum to a Gambian student previously funded by the Gambian government who publicly supports LGBT rights.
The Freedom Newspaper notes that this is not the first time that Yahya Jammeh, an army officer, who took power in a 1994 military coup has ordered the withdrawal of Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit (PIU) personnel from the US Embassy premises. He apparently issued a similar directive sometime last year. We have asked but have not received a response if/when post will suspend operation.
Here is an excerpt of the Embassy’s 2016 Crime and Safety report:
The Gambia’s President Yaya Jammeh came to power by a non-violent coup in July 1994. He was first elected president in an internationally-challenged election in 1996 and re-elected in 2001, 2006, and November 2011 to five-year terms. The next scheduled presidential election is December 1, 2016. Previous elections were considered credible despite numerous shortcomings.
In March 2006, the government thwarted a reported military-led coup attempt. The alleged coup attempt was put down without violence. Around 50 people were detained for their alleged roles in the coup plot; many detainees were released, with the remainder convicted and sentenced to life terms. The President continues to shuffle government leaders capriciously, reducing the likelihood of any single actor gaining too much political power.
In December 2014, there was an unsuccessful coup perpetrated by Gambian dissidents at the State House. As a result, The Gambian government arrested/detained/questioned countless individuals in an effort to locate conspirators and identify those perceived to be in opposition to the government. The resulting crackdown inspired fear in many Gambians. The government seized the opportunity to arrest those that have taken opposing views. It has even arrested family members (including young children) of coup plotters and is known to torture those in custody during interrogation.
Over the past several years, politically-motivated arrests have become more frequent and arbitrary, and the government has cracked down on the independent press and others who are seen as opposing the government.
It is illegal to speak out against President Jammeh. Apparently, it is even illegal to speak negatively to his photo. Homosexuality is also illegal in The Gambia. “Consensual same-sex sexual relations are illegal in The Gambia. Prison terms can range from five years to life imprisonment, and there is strong societal discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals. The Criminal Code was amended in October 2014 to include Section (144A) entitled Aggravated Homosexuality, which sets out seven specific categories, including being “a serial offender,” for which a person is “liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.”
A couple of weeks ago, the State Department officially condemned the Gambian Government’s response to peaceful protests in the country.