More than 20 people have been hospitalised in Brikama after anti-riot police fired tear gas at protesters demanding better service delivery from the Brikama Area Council.
The protest dubbed “#OccupyBAC” was held less than 24 hours after security chiefs held a marathon meeting with the organizers at the Police Headquarters in Banjul and rejected their application for permit to hold the protest.
By 7:30am Wednesday, a few dozen people gathered near the Brikama main market to distribute #OccupyBAC t-shirts ahead of the protest planned to start at 8 0’Clock. But before they could attract a larger crowd, police started firing tear gas to disperse them. By 10am, at least a hundred protesters were on the streets chanting ‘we want peace’ and ‘BAC must deliver’.
It followed more than a more of brewing social media campaign calling for pressure on the Brikama Area Council to provide services including sanitation and waste collection schemes for the communities within its jurisdiction. BAC and its chairman Sheriffo Sonko have been under criticism in recent months especially on the social media for alleged ineptness and lack of vision.
“We are not violent. We’re peaceful, law-abiding citizens and tax payers who are protesting to encourage the people who collect our taxes to give us back our taxes in the form of service delivery,” said Abdoulie Manneh, a student protester. “Why are the authorities so scared of a peaceful protest? Our rights to protest were forcefully taken away from us during the former regime and we lived with that. Now we’re in a new political dispensation and we will not accept any dictatorship in any form. We will protest,” he added.
Isatou Sanneh, another protester said: “This is our town and what all we are asking is how our taxes are being used or abused by the people we elected to run our affairs. It’s as simple as that. We’re not violent and there shouldn’t have been any armed police here throwing tear gas at us and beating our people.”
Many of the protesters were seen bleeding from injuries allegedly sustained from police beatings. More than twenty people were rushed to Brikama Health Center after sustaining injuries. Some of them were heard screaming. Many others were seen lying unconscious on hospital beds and being treated for respiratory issues after inhaling tear gas fired by the police.
Ambulances and other vehicles were seen constantly offloading patients, majority women and children, including at least two babies.
Among those hospitalised was Ismaila Fadera, the coordinator of #OccupyBAC.
“I sustained injury in the garage when I was actually talking to one police officer, showing him documents about our protest. Before I realized it, tear gas came out of nowhere and hit me on my eye lid. I found myself at the health center unconscious. They put liquid on my eye”.
Omar Saibo Camara, an activist was concerned about the close proximity between where the police officers were firing tear gas and the health center. “This is not safe. We have patients here. The moment they inhale it they can die. They are on their sick beds already and the tear gas can even worsen their sicknesses. If the normal people walking in the streets are collapsing because of tear gas what would happen to sick people.”
A man who only identified himself as Tamsir had blood oozing from his mouth and nose. He told The Chronicle that he was assaulted by a police officer for helping an injured person.
“The police officer who hit me called it a war. How can you be at war with civilians who carried no weapons? He hit me a pipe. This situation is getting worse because people are getting angry.”
The police spokesperson Lamin Njie confirmed to The Chronicle that more than ten people were arrested in relation to the protest.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters later marched towards the Brikama Police Station to demand the release of their colleagues. But the riot police blocked the gate to the station. The protesters then marched to the Brikama Area Council where they handed over their petition letter to CEO Mam Sait Jallow. He called the situation unfortunate and apologized to the protesters for what they went through.
Meanwhile, shops, banks and other businesses remain closed across Brikama’s commercial areas. Streets have also been deserted.