October 11, 2010
Bakary Gibba & Pa N'Derry M'Bai
Authorities in The Gambia have begun cracking down on women rights campaigners against Female Genital Mutilation. The Executive Director of The Gambia Committee Against Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP) Dr. Isatou Touray, and her Assistant Amie Bojang Sissoho were arrested on Monday by police for unexplained reasons, the Freedom Newspaper can report. Both Dr. Touray and Madam Sissoho are currently detained at the police head quarters in the capital city Banjul.
Before close of business Monday, news reached the press community here that the detainees were to be escorted by police to the regional court in Kanifing, but only to be told that the case would be heard on Tuesday. Dr. Touray and Mrs. Sissoho are expected to reappear in court on Tuesday for plea taking.
Sources said the detainees were alleged to have been charged with theft, but would not elaborate further on the main substance of the case. But prior to their arrest, Dr. Touray, who is known as a prominent anti FGM activist said she was being pursued by the state with people reporting her to the President. She said some people were "out to get her" with false accusations, but would not elaborate on the nature of the said accusations. She told delegates at a recent workshop that she was privy to the scheme that was hatched to get her arrested.
Dr. Touray, and her fellow FGM campaigners have recorded a significant success in the area of FGM education in The Gambia. Many local circumcisers have laid down their tools—thanks to GAMCOTRAP’S grassroots education campaign against the deadly cultural practice.
GAMCOTRAP’S efforts to discourage FGM in The Gambia has been greeted with strong opposition by some religious leaders—who openly advocate for female circumcision. One of them is the controversial State House Imam Alhagie Abdoulie Fatty, who told Freedom Radio in a recent interview that FGM is not being practiced in The Gambia as painted by local activists. Imam Fatty accuses FGM activists of blowing things out of proportion. He said Islam supports female circumcision.
“ There is nothing wrong to circumcise our kids. Islam supports Female circumcision. Don’t mind the so called FGM activists. They are spreading wrong information about female circumcision. It is a cultural practice recognized by Islam,” Imam Fatty said.
A survey conducted by GAMCOTRAP says about 80 percent of The Gambian population practice FGM, but that figure had decline significantly thanks to educational awareness campaign spearheaded by the Organization. Those engage in the practice cite religious, and cultural reasons in support of FGM. But anti FGM campaigners disagree. They said the practice endangers the life of the girl child. For example, they argued that dozens of young girls are circumcised with one blade, and that in most cases the blade is never sterilized. This to some extent made the circumcised girls vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases known as (STI), including HIV/Aids, the virus that causes aids.
According to anti FGM activists, some of the circumcised kids died during the process. They said FGM violates the right of the girl child. They also opined that the practice undermines women’s sexual feelings.
Up to the time of going to press Dr. Isatou Touray, and Amie Bojang Sissoho were still detained at the police head quarters in Banjul. They are expected to appear in court on Tuesday in Kanifing. They have not been accorded with the right to bail.