DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambian activists and politicians have called on West Africa's economic body to take actions against Gambia for its brutal crackdown on rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the run-up to elections later in the year.
The calls come as Amnesty International released a report Thursday that says amid opposition protests, peaceful demonstrators and bystanders were beaten and arrested in April and May. The group says 51 people, including the leader and executive members of the opposition United Democratic Party, await trial and at least 36 others have been detained without charge.
Opposition party secretary Solo Sandeng died in custody after torture, the group said, demanding accountability for President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994.
"Gambia is already in bad state. I would recommend that targeted sanctions to be applied against President Jammeh and his close associates," women rights activist Fatoumata Tambajang said.
Tambajang called on countries like Senegal and Nigeria to put maximum pressure on Jammeh to step down.
Gambians are forced to face a choice between speaking out or remaining safe, Amnesty said. New laws that further restricted the right to freedom of expression have been introduced since November 2011 elections, and journalists have fled Gambia because of persecution.
Civil society activists have said they can't trust anyone.
Gambia, a part of the Economic Community Of West African States, must observe and comply with its protocol on democracy and good governance, Amnesty said, calling for its suspension from the body if no progress on human rights is made.
Top leaders from the organization have met with Senegal President Macky Sall, the chairman of ECOWAS, to ensure strong actions before the body meets for a summit beginning June 4.
AP writer Abdoulie John in contributed to this report.