McCarthy Square in Banjul, Gambia will be crowded with hundreds of people today. They will be attending parades and parties, listening to schoolchildren sing, and gathering to watch President Yahya Jammeh address the citizens of the small West African nation. The celebrations will mark 51 years since the United Kingdom granted Gambia its independence; the twenty-seventh African country since 1960 to transition from colony to sovereign state.
Chief Ebrima Manneh is one Gambian who will be unable to participate in the festivities. A journalist formally employed by the local Daily Observer, Ebrima attempted to reprint a BBC article critical of President Jammeh in July 2006. Before he was able to reprint the article he was abducted by state security and imprisoned.
Nearly 10 years after Ebrima was last seen we have almost no information about him or his current condition. According to the last available information, he suffers from grave health problems and has been held in solitary confinement in dehumanizing conditions. He is also at serious risk of being tortured. According to the U.S. State Department, Gambian security forces torture prisoners with “severe beatings, electric shock, asphyxiation, and burning.”
More disturbingly, arbitrary executions are not uncommon in Gambia. In August 2012, after a decades-long moratorium, Gambian authorities executed 9 death row inmates in a single night. In 2004, journalist Deyda Hydara was murdered after critical reporting on the Jammeh regime. To this day, there has never been an official investigation into his death.
The Gambian government has consistently ignored or actively blocked attempts to learn more about Ebrima’s current conditions. In June 2008, the Economic Community of West African States found Ebrima’s detention to be in violation of international law and ordered the Gambian government to release him and pay restitution. The Gambian government has not complied with this ruling. In fact, the government continues to deny that Ebrima is in prison. President Jammeh invited the UN to investigate Ebrima’s disappearance in February 2012, but that invitation was later walked back by a government spokesperson. When the UN finally arrived in Gambia in November 2014 to investigate the disappearance they were stymied by government interference and unable to carry out their mandate.
Ebrima shares a birthday with Gambia. If he is still alive, he will be 38 years old today. The international community should not let another year pass in the dark. We strongly urge the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations to use all available resources to pressure the Gambian government to provide a definitive, truthful answer about the location and condition of Ebrima and, if he remains in detention, to release him unconditionally and immediately.