Gambian lawyers protest arrest of fellow lawyer, 2011

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Timing
Time Period:  
January
2011
to
October
2011
Location and Goals
Country: 
Gambia
Location City/State/Province: 
Banjul
Location Description: 
Court houses of Gambia
Goals: 
Secure the release of Moses B. Richards, a former judge/lawyer prosecuted by the state.
 

In 1994, the Gambian military, led in part by Yahya Jammeh, carried out a bloodless coup against Sir Dawda Jawara and his People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration. Jammeh was an important figure in the transitional government and was elected President in 1996. He has since been reelected in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Foreign governments have given his administration mixed reviews on human rights and victim advocacy. One such time of inquiry was when his administration dismissed Nigerian-born Justice Moses B. Richards as a High Court judge in April 2010. Mr. Richards had been known to be a strong advocate of human rights and his removal was controversial.

After being removed as a judge the former barrister went on to become a private lawyer. The clients he represented let him interact with governmental authorities quite a bit. On 30 December, 2010, Mr. Richards was arrested and placed in the custody of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency in Banjul. He was denied bail. The next day, he was charged with sedition and giving false information to a public servant. The second accusation came from a case of his when he sent a letter to the sheriff of the High Court regarding a land dispute in Jabang. The administration was involved and the claim was that he had willfully provided false information to the government for seditious reasons. The Gambia Bar Association released a press statement condemning his arrest as unreasonable, claiming that refusing him bail was unjustifiable and legally wrong. They went on to say that his letter, far from being criminal, came as a result of acting on the behalf of his client.

On 3 January, 2011, he was released on a bail of 500 dalasis but the charges were not dropped. On 10 January, lawyers from the Bar Association refused to attend court over the course of three days, halting the judicial process. Over twenty defense lawyers stormed the Banjul Magistrates’ Court to confront the magistrate who had denied Richards bail and demand that Richards receive just treatment from the prosecution. The magistrate capitulated and revised the opinion but the charges were not dropped.

The political climate was very tense and the Bar Association backed off their support of Mr. Richards for fear of retaliation by the government. They did not intervene in May, for example, when Richards was ordered by the court prosecuting him to proceed even without a lawyer to represent him, claiming that he was a lawyer himself.

On 19 September, Mr. Richards, pleading ‘not guilty’ was convicted of giving false information to a public servant and sedition, earning him a sentence of 30 months imprisonment with forced labor. The Bar immediately condemned the sentence and proceeded to hold another 3-day strike from judicial work. This was replicated a few weeks later on 3 October when lawyers refused to go to court and announced that they would stage a protest march to Mile Two Central prison where Mr. Richards was being held.

The march was cancelled due to police refusing to give them a permit on grounds of public safety and because on 8 October, Mr. Richards released a statement, addressed to the President asking for forgiveness and denouncing his connection with the Bar Association, claiming he did not appreciate their protests. He was released on the 14 October, following a Presidential pardon.

The Bar Association was very surprised by his statement, as many lawyers had volunteered their time to represent him in court, but many concluded that it had been made for political reasons and were dissatisfied that he had been forced to concede. There is concern that this case will be detrimental to Gambian human rights activists and lawyers alike in the future.

Research Notes
Sources: 
"2011 Human Rights Reports: The Gambia." U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, 24 May 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2011/af/186199.htm>.

"2011: The Year of Living Very Dangerously." - Daily News from Gambia. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://dailynews.gm/africa/gambia/article/2011-the-year-of-living-very-dangerously-1>.

"AllAfrica." AllAfrica.com: Gambia: Bar Association Boycotts the Courts. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201110050893.html>.

"A Decisive Day for Gambian Lawyers' Protest." - Daily News from Gambia. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://dailynews.gm/africa/gambia/article/a-decisive-day-for-gambian-lawyers-protest>.

"FOROYAA Newspaper." END OF YEAR REVIEW OF 2011. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.foroyaa.gm/index.php/burning-issues/10207-gambia-news-archive>.

"The Gambia Journal." : October 2011. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://gambiajournal.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html>.

"The Gambia Mission Report." N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.omct.org/files/2011/07/21336/the_gambia_mission_report.pdf>.

"Moses Richard Ordered to Proceed Without Counsel." - Daily News from Gambia. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://dailynews.gm/africa/gambia/article/moses-richard-ordered-to-proceed-without-counsel>.

"The North Bank Evening Standard." : Exclusive: Richards Released Friday. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://thenorthbankeveningstandard.blogspot.com/2011/10/exclusive-richards-released-friday.html>.

"State of Human Rights in The Gambia." - Daily News from Gambia. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://dailynews.gm/africa/gambia/article/state-of-human-rights-in-the-gambia>.

"Yahya Jammeh | President of Gambia." Yahya Jammeh | President of Gambia. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.accessgambia.com/information/yahya-jammeh.html>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Christopher Capron, 02/12/2012