Gambia's High Court has charged opposition leader Ousaniou Darboe and 19 other activists arrested after taking part in a protest with conspiracy to commit a felony. The defendants, including newly accused Masanneh Lalo Jawla, had previously been charged with assembling unlawfully, rioting, inciting violence and interfering with vehicles. They all pleaded not guilty.
The court sitting in capital Banjul adjourned hearing on bail applications until 5 May. Defence lawyers alleged their clients had been denied access to family visits, proper food and medical assistance after at least one defendant allegedly sustained "severe" injuries. The prosecution denied the allegations.
It is believed more than 50 youths and members of the opposition were arrested after taking to the streets of Banjul earlier in April, calling for electoral reforms and the resignation of President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994.
Authorities deemed the protests illegal as demonstrators had failed to obtain permission from the police.
It is feared that UDP secretary Solo Sandeng and two others died while they were held in detention. Human rights groups have so far confirmed only Sandeng's death, which triggered further demonstrations culminating in the arrest of Ousainu Darbo, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP).
Meanwhile, Samsudeen Sarr, Gambia's ambassador to the United Nations, sparked outrage after claiming the demonstrations were violent and aimed at overthrowing Jammeh. The UN and right groups have called on the Gambian government to conduct an impartial investigation on the arrests and alleged politically-motivated killings.
Jeffrey Smith, an international human rights consultant who has worked with Gambian activists, has described the international attention given to recent events in the Gambia as "unprecedented".
"Jammeh and his abusive regime have thrived off the darkness in years past, committing heinous crimes without so much as a whisper from regional or international leaders," he explained, in an interview with IBTimes UK. "This will undoubtedly add a layer of protection that had not previously existed. This new spotlight has clearly emboldened the protest movement and has put Jammeh and his henchmen on notice that the world is indeed watching."