Peaceful protesters and opposition figures beaten and arrested in run-up to elections, alleges report by rights group.
As The Gambia enters a new era of democracy, President Adama Barrow has reiterated his commitment to ending human rights abuses in the country and ordered the release of all prisoners detained without trial.
“Orders have already been given for all those detained without trial to be released,” he said during his official inauguration ceremony at the Independence Stadium in Bakau, a town 20km from the capital Banjul, on Saturday.
As a result, a total of 171 inmates in the tiny West African nation’s notorious 2 Mile Prison were set free. They were all detained without trial some time during former President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule.
Jammeh’s tenure was marred by clampdowns on dissenting views, enforced disappearances and detention without trial, creating a climate of fear. Hundreds of people were jailed for their political views and thousands of others were forced to flee the country.
“This is a day of victory for Gambian politicians who for decades faced arrest and intimidation from the security services,” said Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from the capital, Banjul.
“Among Gambia’s new cabinet are men and women that have spent time in the Mile 2 prison,” he said.
“Many politicians have either died in custody or gone missing after being taken to jail.”
Jammeh clung to power, creating a political crisis that forced Barrow to be inaugurated in January in Senegal, which surrounds Gambia except for its coast.
International pressure, including the threat of a regional military intervention, led Jammeh on January 21 to finally accept his election defeat and fly into exile in Equatorial Guinea. Hundreds of thousands welcomed Barrow’s return to Gambia days later.
Barrow has pledged to reverse Jammeh’s repressive policies and promised to keep The Gambia in the International Criminal Court, rejoin the Commonwealth, and free political prisoners.
At Saturday’s ceremony, Barrow also said that his government will undertake key constitutional and legal reforms and announced that he would highlight them in his first address to the National Assembly.
“It [the legal reform] intends to enforce constitutional provisions that are entrenched to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens,” he said.
Barrow said the attorney general and minister of justice will receive information regarding all those who went missing. “An appropriate commission will be established to conduct inquiries into their disappearances,” he said.
Barrow has also promised to establish a truth and reconciliation commission.
“The release of Mile 2 prisoners, many of whom have been victim of abuse from security forces, is the first step to redress the miscarriages of justice in the Gambia,” said Al Jazeera’s Haque.
“It’s a moment many in Gambia have been waiting for.”