Amnesty International has condemned the arrest, and ongoing trail, of Nigerian-born human rights activist, Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, by Gambian authorities, and demanded his immediate release.
Mr. Nwakaeme is the director of Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG), a human rights organization based in Gambia. His offence is that he reportedly misled a government official into thinking that his organization is registered as a nongovernmental organization.
The charges appear to be linked to the organization writing to the daughter of the President of Gambia last November, nominating her as an ADG ambassador in the context of celebrating World day for the prevention of child abuse.
"Amnesty International considers the charges against Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaema to result solely from his activities as a Human Rights Defender and requests that the authorities drop the charges and immediately and unconditionally release him," stated the Acting Press Officer of the organization, Elisabeth Vikman, in an email to NEXT.
The organization also reminded "the Gambian authorities that an action of this kind violates international and regional human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)."
Mr. Nwakaeme was first arrested on February 22, but was released three days later. He was then rearrested on March 1 and detained at the Serious Crime Unit of the police in Banjul.
On March 8, he was taken to court and charged with giving "false information", but he refused to plead either guilty or innocent on that day because he did not have a lawyer with him. He was taken to court again on March 10 and charged with giving "false information to the office of the president that Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG) is a Non Governmental Organization."
He pleaded not guilty; his lawyer applied for bail for him but the judge denied it and remanded him in prison. The case has been adjourned until March 22. Mr. Nwakaeme could be sentenced to six months imprisonment or a fine of D500 (approximately $20). He is currently detained in Mile 2 prison in Banjul. His international passport has been reportedly seized by the Gambian police.
"Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience," stated the report. "Charges of ‘false information' are usually used in cases of fraudulent applications for identity papers, or where people give false identities to government officials."
Mr. Nwakaeme is married with four children, and has been actively engaged in human rights activism from his undergraduate days at the University of Calabar. He founded ADG in 2006.