HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Four Maryland congressional members expressed outrage Thursday after a court in Gambia sentenced a state resident to three years in prison following her arrest there during an anti-government protest led by her prominent dissident uncle.
Fanta Darboe Jawara's conviction and sentencing made a mockery of civil rights guaranteed by the Gambian constitution, said the joint statement from Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski and representatives Chris Van Hollen and John Delaney, all Democrats.
"She has done nothing wrong and this outcome is completely unacceptable," the officials said. "We are in touch with the State Department to learn more about the appeals process in Gambia, and are committed to doing our part to ensure Mrs. Jawara's timely release and return to her husband and children in Maryland."
Ebrima Jawara said his wife, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was peacefully observing the demonstration when she was arrested April 16 along with 19 others near Banjul, the capital of the West African nation. He has said Mrs. Jawara was visiting her homeland, leaving him and their two daughters home in Frederick.
Amnesty International said in a statement that 19 of the 20 people arrested at the demonstration were sentenced to three years in jail Wednesday after a court convicted them of unlawful assembly and related counts. Among those convicted and sentenced was Ousainou Darboe, Mrs. Jawara's uncle, a leader of Gambia's opposition United Democratic Party.
The State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, in an emailed statement, confirmed the woman's conviction and sentence and said consular officers have met with Jawara more than 10 times since her arrest and are present for her court hearings.
The statement said a consular officer visited her earlier in the week and also attended Wednesday's court proceeding. It added that the U.S. government calls on Gambia's government to "uphold its international human rights obligations, including the right to peaceful assembly."
Mr. Jawara emailed the AP what appeared to be a partial transcript of the proceeding in which the court found that Mrs. Jawara apparently did not participate in the protest, but refused to defend herself against the charges.
"The evidence was that my wife wasn't part of it," Mr. Jawara said in a telephone interview. He said she didn't offer a defense because she has no lawyer.
Mrs. Jawara has been in custody since her arrest. Last month, the four Maryland congressional members demanded her release.
The State Department had earlier expressed concern about Mrs. Jawara's treatment while she's being held by the government of President Yahya Jammeh. Mr. Jawara is a grandson of Jammeh's predecessor, Dawda Jawara, who was ousted in a 1994 military coup. Human rights groups criticize Jammeh and say he tortures opponents and persecutes gays.