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Wave of Arrests Abroad Follow Gambian Coup Attempt

by Anne Look January 06, 2015

The Gambian government's reaction to a December 30 coup attempt has been swift and "unprecedented," according to human rights groups that say dozens of civilians and security personnel have been detained. The story has taken on an international dimension as well with arrests in Senegal and the United States.

Security remains tight in Gambia a week after gunmen tried to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh.

Authorities are hunting for those suspected of involvement in the December 30 coup attempt. They monitor and search people at the borders and at checkpoints along the main road to the capital.

Several of the alleged coup plotters are believed to have fled the country.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, are warning countries not to extradite suspects to Gambia.

Amnesty Senegal country director, Seydi Gassama, says it would be a "scandal" to extradite someone to the Gambia. Under international law and the U.N. Convention against Torture, he says, you cannot extradite someone to a country where there are grounds to believe he will be tortured or could be executed extrajudicially.

Rights groups initially reported Guinea-Bissau had detained several Gambians, but Guinea Bissau said Monday it has not. Senegal says it is expelling Gambian dissident, Sheikh Sidia Bayo, a joint French-Gambian national though it is unclear on what grounds. Rights groups say they believe Senegal will send him to France.

Two American citizens of Gambian descent are being charged in the United States for their alleged roles in the coup attempt. The complaint says they were among 10-12 people who entered Gambia from the United States and Britain to try to overthrow Jammeh. It is against U.S. law to conspire to take up arms against a country with whom the U.S. is at peace.

Gambian President Jammeh came to power in a coup in 1994. His government is criticized abroad for human rights abuses and what Amnesty calls "iron-fisted repression' of dissent.

Jammeh condemned the attack on December 30 as a "terrorist act" mounted by "dissidents" from abroad.

Rights groups say there has been a wave of arrests inside the tiny West African country.

An activist monitoring the situation from Dakar told VOA he knows of at least 22 relatives of suspected coup participants who had been detained for questioning as well several security officials. He said the relatives have included an elderly mother and children under the age of 18. He said some have been released.

Alpha Jallow contributed to this report from Dakar.

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