Gambia must end 'brutal pre-election crackdown'

Protesters in Banjul, Gambia, following the death of an opposition figure - April 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Protests were held in Banjul after an opposition politician died in custody in April

The Gambia should be suspended from the region bloc Ecowas if it does not free dozens of political prisoners and end a "brutal" crackdown on dissent, Amnesty International says.

Opposition politicians, journalists and activists live in a "climate of fear" ahead of December's polls, it said.

President Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 and is accused of ruling with an iron fist ever since.

He has since won four elections marred by allegations of rigging.

Amnesty says dozens of peaceful protesters and bystanders were beaten by police and arrested in April and May - and 51 people are now awaiting trial.

Solo Sandeng, national organising secretary of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), died in custody in April.

'Go to hell'

In an interview last month, President Jammeh said it was "common" for people to die in detention or while under interrogation.

He said UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty International could "go to hell" for asking for an investigation.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption President Jammeh has ruled The Gambia since a coup more than 20 years ago

"Gambia has a long and brutal history of repression of critical voices and demonstrators such as Solo Sandeng have paid a high price for peaceful protest," Alioune Tine, Amnesty's regional director for West and Central Africa, said.

Amnesty's report also highlighted the death of a union leader in custody in February, the "enforced disappearance" of an imam in October and the arrest and trial of a journalist who shared a photo of Mr Jammeh on messaging service WhatsApp in July last year.

It accused the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) of unlawful surveillance and using threats of torture and ill-treatment to obtain passwords to detainee' email and social media accounts and phones.

The NIA has recently been accused of torture by Human Rights Watch.

An Ecowas heads of state meeting is taking place in Senegal on Saturday.

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