Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Gambia row over wave of arrests

Incumbent President Yahya Jammeh
President Yahya Jammeh has been criticised for his rights record

An opposition leader has criticised a wave of arrests in The Gambia, saying detainees - including a former minister - do not know why they are being held.

Halifa Sallah told the BBC that those arrested have been denied visits from lawyers and family members.

High-ranking military and police officials are reportedly among those detained, and last week ex-fisheries minister Antouman Saho was jailed.

President Yahya Jammeh is frequently criticised by rights groups.

In recent years, he has publicly threatened to kill gay people and rights workers.

Last month the government of Mr Jammeh, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, expelled the envoy of the UN's children charity, Unicef.

No reasons given

Mr Saho, who served in Mr Jammeh's government from 1994 until he was sacked last month, was taken from his home on Friday night.

Police said he was wanted for questioning by intelligence officials.

His family has not been able to contact him since and no official reason has been given for his arrest.

"According to our constitution, within three hours of an arrest the person should be told why he or she has been arrested," Mr Sallah told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

He said relatives of people arrested as far back as October had told him they had not been able to contact their detained family members.

He said those arrested in the more recent wave of arrests were in the same situation.

"We've still been unable to establish why they've been arrested, and as it stands there is only speculation," he added.

Mr Sallah, of the National Alliance for Democracy, has himself been arrested several times in recent years.

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