At least 28 people who appeared to be prisoners of conscience were detained for most of the year. At least five prisoners of conscience were arrested and held without charge or trial for brief periods. At least three members of the security forces continued to be held without trial. Two other possible prisoners of conscience "disappeared". Previous cases of suspected extrajudicial executions had still not been investigated. In August, a new Constitution was adopted following a national referendum. While claiming to reintroduce the rule of law under a civilian government, it granted members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFPRC) total immunity from prosecution. The Constitution allowed for derogation of fundamental rights and freedoms during a state of public emergency, without specifying the criteria for such a derogation. The death penalty was retained. Soon after the Constitution was adopted, the ban on political activities, in force since the July 1994 coup, was lifted. However, a decree was passed which disqualified former President, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, former Vice-President Saihou Sabally and all former ministers of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) from contesting any political office. Two pre-coup opposition parties were also banned from participating in both the parliamentary and the presidential elections. The penalty for contravening this decree was life imprisonment or a fine of one million dalasis (approximately US$100,000). A separate decree gave the Minister of the Interior and the security forces wide powers of arrest and detention, in some instances for 90 days, without any right of legal challenge by the detainee. The presidential election in September, contested by four candidates, was won by Captain Yaha Jammeh, Chairman of the AFPRC. The promised transition to civilian rule was due to be completed by parliamentary elections scheduled for January 1997, after which the new Constitution adopted in August was due to come into force. At least 28 people who appeared to be prisoners of conscience were held for most of the year. About 25 alleged supporters of the banned PPP, who had been arrested and detained in October 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996) were released in October and November, after 13 months in detention. Most of them had not been charged, and those who were had the charges against them dropped. Three other leading figures from the previous government, Omar Jallow, Hussainu Njie and Mamadi C. Cham, also arrested in October 1995, were released in September, after almost 12 months' detention without formal charges or trial. The police had reportedly tried to bring charges of treason against them, but they were never brought to court. At least five prisoners of conscience, including four journalists and a trade unionist, were arrested and held without charge or trial for brief periods. S.B. Danso, a journalist from the Daily Observer newspaper, was held for 24 hours by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Paa M. Fall, a trade unionist, was detained for about three weeks without formal charge or trial. At least three former members of the security forces, arrested in July 1994, and whose trial had been repeatedly adjourned, continued to be held (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996). They were possible prisoners of conscience. Pa Sallah Jagne, former Inspector General of Police, Ebrima Chongan, his deputy, and Kebba Dibba, Assistant Superintendent of Police, were tried in April and acquitted on various counts of stealing from the state while serving as government employees. Days later new criminal charges were brought against them. The magistrate who had acquitted them was dismissed. They remained in detention at the end of the year. The whereabouts of two possible prisoners of conscience, believed to have been held incommunicado at Jangjangbureh prison, were unknown. The authorities continued to deny that they had been arrested and detained. Ousman Sillah, a youth leader, had been arrested in late 1995 and Lamin Waa Juwara, a former opposition member of parliament, was arrested in February. He had been arrested twice in 1995 for defying the government's ban on political activities (see Amnesty International Report 1996). No investigations were carried out into previous cases of suspected extrajudicial executions. These included the death in custody of Captain Haidara, the death of Finance Minister Ousman Koro Ceesay and the deaths of at least 13 military personnel at the time of the alleged coup attempt in November 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1996). No death sentences were known to have been passed, and no executions were known to have taken place. Amnesty International repeatedly called on the Gambian authorities to release prisoners of conscience, end incommunicado detention and investigate possible extrajudicial executions. It also called on them to reconsider their position on the death penalty. Amnesty International delegates who visited the Gambia in January met the Minister of Justice and discussed a number of human rights issues of concern to Amnesty International, including the death penalty. Before the referendum, Amnesty International made public its concerns about the lack of human rights safeguards in the draft Constitution. During the year Amnesty International published The Gambia: Erosion of human rights safeguards continues and The Gambia: A new constitution – revised draft still threatens human rights. In December, the organization called on the Gambian Government to protect human rights during the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in January 1997.

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