A Guinean graduate student at The American University in Cairo (AUC) was arrested 30 April in the Gambian capital of Banjul on charges of threatening national security by spreading ideas inspired by Egypt’s 25 January revolution, friends in Cairo say.
Mouctar Diallo was called for questioning by Gambian authorities on suspicions of being a terrorist and a threat to national security, according to Joseph Hill, an AUC anthropology professor who works with Diallo.
Diallo, who entered The Gambia to research the relationship between nomadic West African identities and globalization, underwent more than a week of questioning in jail. He then went under house arrest until 28 June, according to a Facebook page calling for his release.
That day, the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) called him again for questioning and told him they were making a case to prosecute him as a terrorist, according to information on the Facebook page, which was created by Hill to raise awareness and coordinate efforts to ensure the safe release of Diallo.
“Diallo told me on the day he was taken in by the NIA that he would contact me if they allowed him to do so, but that if we didn’t hear from him after two days we could assume they had decided to lock him up without a lawyer or communication,” Hill told the Independent, a student-run newspaper at AUC.
“Since then no one has heard anything from him except for today [5 July],” he said.
The London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International previously condemned The Gambia’s human rights record. “Enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, attacks on freedom of expression and a climate of impunity are significant human rights concerns in The Gambia,” Amnesty International says in a statement on its website.
Hill wrote in an email to Al-Masry Al-Youm that Diallo called him on Tuesday saying he had been cleared by NIA and has been returned to the police officer in charge of his investigation.
Hill then called the officer directly.
“He was evasive, telling me that they had to be thorough in their investigation and that their main priority was to verify that Diallo was indeed a student at AUC,” Hill wrote.
According to Hill, Gambian authorities have made no effort to contact AUC. He said AUC faxed a letter signed by Diallo's thesis adviser, the graduate program coordinator, the department chairman, and the dean of social sciences and humanities confirming that Diallo was a student conducting university-funded research in The Gambia, but the police officer said he was unaware of the fax.
“It seems strange that, in a thorough investigation that has lasted over two months, the investigators have not been able to establish a fact that they could have established in 30 seconds by sending an email to the AUC administration,” Hill wrote, also mentioning that he has made efforts to reach out to a number of other security officials in The Gambia.
An official with The Gambia’s National Drug Enforcement Agency told Hill that Diallo would be released soon and permitted to continue his research.
Diallo told Hill that he believes they will try to torture him tonight. They tried previously, he said, and the only thing that stopped them was the presence of a Guinean consular official.
“They tell us he is not in custody, but he tells us he is,” said Hill.
The professor believes Gambian officials are trying to minimize the seriousness of the case to the outside world while intimidating Diallo and continuing to treat him as a terrorist.