Gambia: Judicial Harassment against Lawyer Moses Richards

Re: Judicial Harassment against Lawyer Moses Richards

To: Defence Minister, Alhaji Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh; Attorney General, Edward Tony Gomiz; Secretary of State, Ousman Sonko; Ambassador, Moses Benjamin Jallow

From: Vicheka Lay, LRWC Member; Jessica Fletcher, LRWC Member

Date: 2011-09-25

LRWC is concerned by the apparently extra-legal conviction and sentencing of human rights lawyer Moses Richards. We note Mr. Richards has worked both as a High Court Judge at the Special Criminal Division and as a lawyer on politically sensitive cases.

LRWC has been informed that on 19 September, 2011, Mr. Richards was convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour by Principal Magistrate Taiwo Ade Alagbe of the Banjul Magistrates’ Court on charges of “giving false information” (to a public officer) and “sedition.”

Our sources indicate that the charges were based on a November 6, 2010 letter alleged to have been sent by Mr. Richards to the Honourable Sheriff of The Gambia. We are advised that the first count alleged that Mr. Richards informed the Sheriff that a stay of the execution of a writ of possession in a civil suit had been ordered by His Excellency the President of the Gambia, knowing this to be false. The second count alleged that Mr. Richards wrote the said letter with intent to bring into contempt the person of the President of the Gambia. Mr. Richards pled not guilty to both charges.

LRWC condemns the prosecution and conviction of Mr. Richards as being ill-founded in criminal law and appear rather as a reprisal for his human rights advocacy. LRWC is concerned that the prosecution and conviction of Mr. Richards is indicative of the deteriorating human rights situation in Gambia reported on by Amnesty International and other organizations. We note that jurisprudence in common jurisdictions has “clearly established that “only an intention to incite violent overthrow of lawfully constitute authority couples with action(s) likely to achieve the prohibited result could constitute sedition, but that even this narrowly defined offence has fallen into disuse.”

If our concerns are well grounded, Mr. Richards’ conviction and sentencing contravene Article 19(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, which protects his right to liberty and security of the person, including his right to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention. Moreover, Article 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, protects Mr. Richards human rights work by securing his right to freedom of expression, consciousness, assembly, and association.

The conviction of Mr. Richards also contravenes—if our concerns are well-grounded, a number of provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (DHRD) , adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:

1. Article 1 states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;

2. Article 12.2: “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violation, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or he legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

As a member of the United Nations, the Gambia is also bound by the “Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers”, welcomed by the UN General Assembly in 1990 (Principles). Article 16 (a) of the Principles states that “governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference”.

LRWC refers you to Principle 16 (c) which states, “Governments shall ensure that lawyers […] Shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics.”

Other internationally protected rights violated indirectly by the treatment of Mr. Richards include:

1. The right to practice one’s profession recognized by Article 11 of the DHRD and guaranteed by the International Civil and Political Rights, Article 17; and

2. Freedom to engage in criticism of governing bodies recognized by the DHRD art. 8.2 & 9.3

LRWC invites your government to provide us with any evidence which would justify the legitimacy of the conviction and sentencing of Mr. Richards. In the absence of such evidence, the case against Mr. Richards can only be seen as a malicious prosecution and wrongful conviction. As such, LRWC respectfully urges your government to:

  • provide LRWC with a copy of the formal charges against Mr. Richards and the official reasons for his conviction by Principal Magistrate Taiwo Ade Alagbe of the Banjul Magistrates’ Court;
  • put an end to the arbitrary detention, wrongful conviction and all forms of judicial harassments against Mr. Richards;
  • ensure the personal and professional safety of Mr. Richards;
  • ensure respect for domestically and internationally protected rights to: liberty, freedom of expression, freedom to engage in human rights advocacy and freedom to criticize government as guaranteed by the ICCPR and other laws binding on the Gambia;
  • act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international and regional pacts and covenants ratified by the Gambia;
  • ensure Mr. Richards’ right to appeal the decision before a competent tribunal independent of the Government of the Gambia;
  • ensure that Mr. Richards is released from detention promptly.

LRWC will continue to monitoring this situation.

LRWC awaits your response. Thank you for your attention to our concerns.