Mouctar Diallo, a graduate student at the American University in Cairo, has been detained in the West African nation of Gambia by national intelligence services, who accuse him of spreading revolutionary ideas.
Diallo, a native of Guinea who has lived in Cairo for several years, was in Gambia conducting research for his Master’s thesis, which focuses on transnational migration and identity in West Africa. On 28 June, following several months of police and security service investigations into his activities in the country, he told colleagues in Egypt that he had been threatened with torture and expected to be detained. He has not been heard from since.
He was first arrested on 30 April, following investigations by police and the Gambian National Intelligence Agency into his activities. He was released a week and a half later, but was effectively kept under house arrest, and was subject to further interrogations and police surveillance. He contacted friends and colleagues in Cairo, saying that he was being accused of terrorism and of spreading revolution from Egypt to Gambia. Diallo denied all charges and AUC sent letters verifying that he was in the country conducting legitimate research. Investigations continued, however, and Diallo was unable to find legal representation. According to Joseph Hill, a Professor of Anthropology at AUC and colleague of Diallo, “Mouctar has tried to retain several lawyers, but none has dared to stay with him once they heard the names the security authorities are calling him.”
On 28 June, Diallo spoke to colleagues by phone and reported that a National Intelligence Agency officer was putting together a case to try him. “He once again told me that they had labelled him a terrorist. They told him they would interrogate him over the next 48 hours,” said Joseph Hill.
Diallo was in Egypt at the time of the January 25 Revolution and observed some of the protests with a group of other foreign AUC students, taking pictures. Colleagues affirm, however, that Diallo’s purpose in Gambia was academic and he had no involvement in politics or activism in that country. He had conducted a first round of thesis research in the country last autumn without incident.
In a 2010 report, Amnesty International described the human rights situation in Gambia as “deteriorating,”, citing cases of enforced disappearances of opposition figures, journalists and others accused of “treason or attempts to destabilise the government.” Human rights groups say that torture and ill-treatment of detainees is widespread, and several National Intelligence Agency officers have been accused of torture.
Tensions in West Africa are particularly high at the moment, as the region has seen recent unrest and demands for political reform. In Senegal, Gambia’s neighbour, President Abdoulaye Wade was forced to backtrack on proposed constitutional reforms that would have made it easier for his son to inherit power, after violent anti-government protests broke out in the capital.
“As we saw in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, those in power almost always look first to suspected foreign agents because they need an easy scapegoat and cannot admit that their own people might oppose them,” said Joseph Hill.
For more information on Mouctar Diallo’s case, see the Facebook page “Free Mouctar Diallo in The Gambia” by clicking here.