Friday, 12 March 2010

Detained rights activist declared ‘prisoner of conscience’

Amnesty International has expressed serious concern over the faith of Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, the human rights activist in the custody of the Gambian authorities. The watchdog, in a statement released today, Friday March 12, describing Nwakaeme as a prisoner of conscience, said it was worried that the founder and Director of the Gambia based human rights organization, Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG), is at risk of a six-month prison sentence.
Amnesty cited newspaper reports that the authorities have also seized the activist’s passport and that there were plans to have him deported to his native Nigeria.
Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, who has reportedly been running ADG since 2006, faces charges of providing false information to a public official. Various reports have linked his case to his organization’s intention to enlist President Yahya Jammeh’s daughter as an ADG ambassador. Apparently, Mr Nwakaeme wrote a letter to the office of the president at State House, presenting his organisation as a Non-governmental organisation, while it was officially registered as charity.
However, while arguing that Charges of "false information" are usually used in cases of fraudulent applications for identity papers, or where people give false identities to government officials, Amnesty pointed out that it considers the charge faced by the activist to have resulted solely from his activities as a Human Rights Defender, and that it considers him to be a ‘‘prisoner of conscience.’’
The UK based human rights organisation is therefore requesting that the Gambian authorities drop the charges and immediately and unconditionally release Nwakaeme. It also reminds the Gambian government that ‘‘action of this kind violates international and regional human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).’’
The statement from Amnesty referenced the widely condemned September 2009 alleged death threat by President Yahya Jammeh, who reportedly told state-owned GRTS television that he would kill anyone who threatened to destabilize the country.
‘‘President Jammeh specifically threatened human rights defenders, and those working with them, by emphasizing that their security and personal safety would not be guaranteed by the government of Gambia,’’ the statement from Amnesty said.
The Nigerian was first arrested on 22 February by the Gambian Immigration Department, but was released three days later. And on March 1st, he was again detained, and subsequently taken to court March 8th, charged with giving "false information." The activist reportedly refused to plead either guilty or innocent on that day, ‘‘because he did not have a lawyer with him.’’
He was later taken to court again on 10 March and charged with giving "false information to the office of the president that Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG) is a Non Governmental Organization." That was when Nwakaeme pleaded not guilty. His lawyer subsequently submitted a bail application, which was denied by the seating judge who remanded him in prison. The case has since been adjourned until 22 March.
Amnesty International officials remain worried that the activist, who is currently in Mile 2 prisons, might be sentenced to six month's imprisonment or a fine of D500 (approximately $20), a situation they deem unfair.

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