Good news from the Gambia: judicial harassment of 2 HRDs ended

November 15, 2012

On November 14, 2012 The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), announced and welcomed the vindication of two women human rights defenders in The Gambia following two years of judicial harassment.

On November 12, the Banjul Magistrates’ Court decided to drop all charges against Dr. Isatou Touray and Ms. Amie Bojang-Sissoho, respectively Executive Director and Programme Coordinator of The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), an organisation working on sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and children. The two women human rights defenders had been prosecuted since October 2010 on charges of “theft” for the alleged embezzlement of 30,000 Euros received in 2009 from “Yolocamba Solidaridad”, a Spanish development NGO.

This landmark decision puts an end to an uninterrupted judicial harassment that had been going on for more than two years, since the police started interrogations of GAMCOTRAP staff in May 2010. Since the opening of their trial, Dr. Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang-Sissoho had been summoned to 66 hearings, which took place in a hostile atmosphere and on completely unlawful grounds. Indeed, the alleged victims had never filed a complaint and the Prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence that they had indeed committed a criminal offence. Furthermore, on January 31, 2011, Ms. Begoña Ballestros Sanchez, Director of Yolocamba Solidaridad, denied accusing anyone associated with GAMCOTRAP of theft and submitting a complaint in relation thereof during a hearing at Banjul Magistrate’s Court. During interrogation, Ms. Isatou Touray had to respond to very precise questions by the Prosecutor covering all aspects of GAMCOTRAP’s activities, staff and resources that are unrelated to the charges. In addition, the Prosecutor also repeatedly made depreciating comments about the work of GAMCOTRAP’s programme to eradicate female genital mutilation.

One can only hope that their acquittal marks a step forward in the respect of the rights of human rights defenders in the Gambia.

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