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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 18:21 GMT
Gambian rights activist released
Voters in queue fanning themselves with ID cards
The opposition criticised the conduct of the election
Amnesty International's representative in Gambia has been released from detention after intense pressure on the newly re-elected government.


I was not even allowed to put on my shoes, my cell was infested with mosquitoes and other insects

Amnesty representative Muhammed Lamin Sillah

Muhammed Lamin Sillah, who is also president of a coalition of human rights defenders, said he was detained in conditions that amounted to mental torture.

Mr Sillah was arrested by the country's National Intelligence Agency (NIA) following an interview with the BBC shortly after the results of the 18 October presidential elections were declared.

Opposition groups in Gambia said 60 of their supporters were detained after incumbent President Yahya Jammeh won the election.

Correspondents say the head of the private radio station Citizen FM, Baboucar Gueye, was also detained by the NIA on Monday morning in what appears to be a government crackdown.

Mental torture

In the interview, Mr Sillah had condemned the security forces for what he called the indiscriminate arrest of opposition supporters.

President Yayah  Jammeh of the Gambia
President Jammeh seems to be reverting to his old ways
He told BBC correspondent Ebrima Sillah that he was forced to sleep on the bare floor of a cell during his five days of detention.

"I was not even allowed to put on my shoes... my cell was infested with mosquitoes and other insects," he said.

Although the human rights activist said he was not physically tortured, he described the conditions as amounting to mental torture.

Mr Sillah said he has not yet been charged, but the detaining authorities accused him of "inciting genocidal confusion and attempting to overthrow the government", an accusation he flatly denied.

Mr Sillah is now on bail and must report to the NIA on Monday.

According to Gambian law, anyone arrested should either be released after 72 hours or charged.

Repressive ways

President Jammeh, who seized power in a military coup in 1994, won a second five-year term, with the main opposition coalition candidate and human rights lawyer Ousainou Darboe, coming second.

Crowd cover up the body of opposition supporter killed in clashes with police
The election campaign was marred by violence

The elections were judged by election observers like those from the Commonwealth to have been fair on the day of the voting.

But correspondents say the wave of arrests after the poll may indicate that President Jammeh's government is reverting to its old repressive ways now that the foreign observers have left the country.

Some opposition supporters have been detained for several days while others have been released uncharged.

The opposition says about 30 of its supporters are still being held.

BBC correspondent Mark Doyle says this would be a large number for a country as small as Gambia.

'Exaggerating'

Interior Minister Ousmane Badji said the opposition was exaggerating.

Ousainou Darboe leads opposition coalition
Opposition leader Darboe conceded electoral defeat
There had been some arrests, he said, but these were related to several violent incidents during the election campaign.

Other government officials said the opposition was trying to spoil the happy atmosphere in Gambia following President Jammeh's win.

While crackdowns on opposition parties and journalists are not uncommon during elections in this part of the world, it is unusual that detentions are now taking place after the incumbent has won.

The opposition at first accepted Mr Jammeh's victory in the polls, but later said it had discovered irregularities.

See also:

04 Oct 01 | Africa
Violence mars Gambia campaign
23 Aug 01 | Africa
Gambia kicks out British diplomat
19 Oct 01 | Africa
Gambia's president wins election
25 Oct 01 | Africa
Gambia slips towards repression
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