Gambian Opposition Leader Released After President’s Shock Poll Loss

Published: 06 December 2016

Yahya JammehGambian President Yahya Jammeh (Photo: Amanda Lucidon / White House)

By Matthew Beinart

The leader of the main opposition party in The Gambia was released on bail on Monday, along with 18 others, just days after the shock election defeat of the West African country’s long-reigning strongman.

Ousainou Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), was arrested in April after participating in a protest against the death of Solo Sandeng, a political activist who died in police custody after demonstrating for electoral reform.

Darboe’s release follows the surprise win of UDP candidate Adama Barrow in the country’s presidential election on Friday, which ended more than two decades of authoritarian rule by Yahya Jammeh.

Barrow won more than 45 percent of the vote and hailed the victory as the beginning of a “new Gambia,” the BBC reported.

Jammeh’s 22 year rule over The Gambia has been widely criticized for corruption, intolerance of dissent, and combative international decisions including withdrawals from the British Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court.

The Gambia Court of Appeal’s decision to release the protesters on bail is a sign the courts are shifting away from being a tool used by Jammeh to go after his critics, Darboe’s lawyer, Atoumane Gaye, was quoted as saying by News24.

Gaye told reporters his client and the others released are moving towards clearing all charges against them by January when the new president takes power.

Human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International has called for Darboe’s release and an investigation into Sandeng’s death.

"The release of Ousainou Darboe and the 18 other peaceful protesters on bail is a big moment for them and their families, and we hope that this positive step indicates that they will be fully acquitted in due course,” Amnesty wrote in a statement Monday.