Authorities in Gambia have charged 16 people under anti-terrorism laws for trying to destabilise the former British colony, a nation regularly accused of using arbitrary detention to gag political opponents. The 16 Gambians were charged at Brikama Magistrates’ Court, 32 km (20 miles) west of the capital Banjul, with “jointly conducting or engaging themselves in an unlawful act which could have seriously destabilised” the country in August 2006.

The charges, to which the men have pleaded not guilty, gave no further details. President Yahya Jammeh has ruled mainland Africa’s smallest country since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1994. Human rights organisations and press freedom watchdogs accuse his security forces of using arbitrary detention and other abuses of power to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political opposition.

Earlier this year, the authorities arrested leading opposition figure Halifa Sallah and detained him for more than 10 days. He was released after Amnesty International said he was at risk of being tortured in jail. Last December a British missionary couple were sentenced to a year in prison with hard labour for defaming Jammeh, a former wrestler with a penchant for exotic birds who believes he has herbal treatments that can cure AIDS.



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