The leader of the main opposition party in Gambia, Ousainou Darboe, and 17 others were sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison on several charges including unlawful assembly.
Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the other defendants appeared before the High Court in Banjul where one man was acquitted.
All the defendants were facing several charges including unlawful assembly, incitement to violence and conspiracy. They had pleaded not guilty.
They were arrested after demonstrations in April calling for political reforms and to protest against the death of an official of the UDP in custody.
The national organizing secretary of the UDP, Solo Sandeng, was arrested after the April 14 demonstration and he died while in detention. His death sparked the April 16 demonstration which resulted in more arrests including that of the leader of the UDP, Ousainou Darboe.
“I find you guilty of all charges except that of incitement to violence. That has been dropped,” the judge read out the court ruling.
The verdict was greeted with tears by family members of detainees and opposition supporters present outside the courtroom.
The convicted were escorted back to the main prison in Banjul, Mile Two.
Shortly after the verdict, the rights organization Amnesty International called for the immediately and unconditional release of the prisoners.
“Ousainou Darboe and the other opposition (prisoners) should have never been arrested, let alone prosecuted. Amnesty sees as prisoners of conscience all those detained for peaceful protests in Gambia,” the deputy director of the NGO for West and Central Africa, Stephen Cockburn said.
“Less than five months of the presidential election, the Gambian authorities should take urgent measures for people who wish to speak to do so without fear of retribution. And if they do not, the international community should not look on,” Cockburn added.
The conviction comes five months before Gambia’s presidential election on December 1 which is expected to go in favour of the head of state Yahya Jammeh.