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The Observatory / Front Line: Joint Press Release: Human Rights Defenders threatened with death by President

Dublin – Geneva – Paris, September 25, 2009: Front Line and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), strongly condemn the statement made by Gambian President Jammeh on 21 September 2009 threatening human rights defenders with death.

Appearing on state-owned Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), President Jammeh publicly threatened to kill human rights defenders, together with anyone who sought to 'destabilise' the country. “What I want to make very clear to everybody and those so-called human rights campaigners is that I will never allow anyone to destabilise this country. [...] We are not going to condone people posing as human rights defenders to the detriment of the country. If you are affiliated with any human rights group, be rest assured that your security, and personal safety would not be guaranteed by my Government. We are ready to kill saboteurs”, President Jammeh stated.

In his address, President Jammeh also claimed that he was aware of human rights defenders being used to tarnish the image of his government and added that ”troublemakers [should] keep away from the country”. He warned that cooperating with human rights groups was no guarantee of protection: "Those who want to collaborate and listen to those so-called human rights campaigners and think that they will be defended by them are fooling themselves".

The explicit and direct death threats made by the Gambian president against human rights defenders as well as any independent critical voice are unprecedented and signal that the state of the freedom of expression and the right to security in the country have attained a critical point. They follow the recent case of six journalists arrested and sentenced to two-year imprisonment in August 2009 for criticising the government on the lack of investigation into the murder of journalist Deydra Hydara in 2004. Although the six journalists were later released on a presidential pardon following strong international pressure, the court case warned human rights defenders and independent journalists that no criticism will be tolerated.

The stern warning directly threatens Gambian and non-Gambian human rights defenders alike, including the several hundreds of them expected to attend the 46th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in November. Front Line and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders fear for the safety of human rights defenders in the Gambia.

Our organisations call on the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) to formally condemn the statement made by the president of its host country and call on the African Union to consider moving the headquarters of the ACHPR, as the security and safety of participating human rights defenders is not guaranteed by the Gambian authorities. Additionally, our organisations urge the Human Rights Council, currently in session, to condemn the statements made by President Jammeh. Finally, we also urge President Jammeh to accept criticism of its government as mandated by the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and at all times to effectively guarantee the protection of human rights defenders and ensure they can carry out their activities without any hindrances.

For more information, please contact:

Front Line: Jim Loughran / Andrea Rocca: +353 (0)1 212 3750
OMCT: Eric Sottas: + 41 22 809 49 39
FIDH: Gaël Grilhot / Karine Appy: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

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