Gambian authorities say the detention of dozens of soldiers does not violate the rights of the military officers, who have been held over national security concerns and are being held within the limits of the country’s military law.
Human rights activists and family members say the prolonged detention of the soldiers violated their rights and urged Gambian officials to either charge or release them.
“Nothing is illegal in the arrest and detention of these soldiers,” the country’s Minister of Information Demba Ali Jawo said.
“In our Constitution, you cannot detain someone for 72 hours without the person appearing before a judge, but there is also a specific law for the Gambian Armed Forces, and this 72-hour limit does not apply to soldiers.”
At least 35 Gambian soldiers are now in detention, some of them for allegedly committing human rights violations.
Gambian authorities swiftly arrested 11 soldiers for being part of a special paramilitary hit squad called the “Jungulars” that was sanctioned by the ex-authoritarian leader, Yahya Jammeh to torture and kill his perceived enemies.
Some 23 of soldiers have been arrested between July and October for plotting to revolt against the new government of Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in last year’s elections.
The country’s Foreign Minister, Ousainou Darboe said the national security of the small West African state would not be compromised amid concerns that some army deserters are camping in neighboring states plotting to destabilize the nation.
Seven military officers suspected of espionage were dismissed from the army. They allegedly passed on information to former President Jammeh and his generals in Equatorial Guinea.
One of the soldiers implicated in the probe, Omar Sadio has been detained since Monday by the State Intelligence Services. Sadio is also the son of a rebel leader in southern Senegal.
Since Jammeh’s defeat, there have been pockets of soldiers that have shown frustration towards the new government. Several were caught taking part in anti-government protests in the opposition stronghold of Foni.
Gambian authorities have not formally charged any of the detained soldiers. A court in the capital, Banjul, however, issued several arrest warrants for some of the soldiers, most of whom have escaped the country and in hiding.