A group of 15 Gambian Americans demonstrated in front of the Federal Courthouse in Seattle yesterday in support of 2 men accused of trying to overthrow the government of the tiny West African nation.
Cherno M. Njie, 57 and Papa Faal, both U.S. citizens born in Gambia, have been charged by American authorities for a December attempt to depose Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.
But members of Seattle’s Gambian community defended the failed coup attempt. During the protest they spoke out about persecution of gays and lesbians in their home country, and charged that U.S. authorities were siding with a dictator because he had cooperated with a War on Terror rendition program.
“There’s no strategy, no benefit, except for the rendition program, which according to Obama isn’t happening anymore,” said Ousman Ceesay during the protest. “There is no oil in that place. So why not tell him the truth? Gambians are living in poverty, the guy has a multimillion dollar home in Maryland. Come on, put a freeze on his assets.”
Njie and Faal have been charged under the U.S. Neutrality Act, which prohibits American citizens from waging war against foreign governments during peacetime.
Dictator Yahya Jammeh has been president of the nation of 1.8 million, which lines the banks of the Gambia River, ever since he took power in a military coup of his own in 1994.
Though small, the Seattle protest was part of wave of demonstrations held in D.C. and London and elsewhere. Protesters send letters sent to the UN, the EU, and the American and British governments with an extensive list of human rights violations and the grievances from Gambian expatriate communities.
The local protestors sent their own letter to Senator Maria Cantwell where they expressed “grave concerns for continued human rights violations and political oppressions” in Gambia and accused Jammeh’s government of “arresting and torturing people believed to be gay or lesbian, in accordance with a new law which threatens life imprisonment for those guilty of ‘aggravated homosexuality.'”
Protestors likened Gambia to “the North Korea of Africa” and held signs reading “U.S. should stand with democracy, not dictatorship” and “We want freedom for all Gambians.”
“I have family in Gambia and I worry for their safety,” said Ceesay, referencing some of his fellow protesters request to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals back in Gambia, “but you have to stand for something. You can’t live in perpetual fear of one man.”