Gambia opens presidential campaign, HRW worried over media arrests

Keywords : Newsletters Human and trade union rights

The electoral campaign for Gambia’s presidential election officially opened Wednesday. The electoral body has approved the candidature of three people. Incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, who is running for a fifth term, faces Adama Barrow, who is the main challenger to Jammeh – Barrow is backed by a coalition of seven opposition political parties while the other, Mammah Kandeh, is an ousted member of the ruling party.

The campaigning is expected to last 15 days, after which some 886,578 voters will go to the polls to elect the head of state of the West African country.

The relationship between the government and the opposition has been highly contentious ahead of the polls. A number of opposition activists were arrested and jailed months back for calling for electoral reforms ahead of the polls.

The Independent Electoral Commission is seeking a successful polls and has drafted a code of conduct to encourage candidates to “a peaceful campaign without insults or violence”.

Some 1422 polling stations are open for 53 electoral districts in the administrative regions.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling for the release of three journalists who were arrested by the authorities and are being held incommunicado.

A HRW statement released on Wednesday said, “The Gambian government’s arrest of three journalists before the start of the presidential election campaign could have a chilling effect on the media’s ability to fairly cover the election,” said Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

“Intimidation and threats against the media need to stop for voters to be able to make informed decisions.

“Fair elections are only possible if all candidates and parties can freely campaign and journalists can report freely,” Olugboji.

“The Gambian government and security forces need to allow everyone to make their voices heard during the election campaign,” he concluded

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