Just a few days ago, on 22 October, I was given an award from the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network. I was not expecting it, which makes me all the more happy and appreciative.
Sadly, I was not allowed to go and receive it in my home country, The Gambia, because there was a chance I could be arrested there.
My responsibility, as a Muslim and as a scholar, is to ensure people enjoy their human rights, regardless of colour, race, gender, religion, tradition, economic status or anything else. We are all human beings at the end of the day. As a human rights activist receiving such a prestigious award is wonderful. You feel your work is recognised and encouraged.
Problems for me started when, in August 2012, our head of state President Jammeh promised to execute several inmates.
So I went to talk to The Standard newspaper and urged the President to forgive them. "Forgiveness is part of faith and they are no longer a threat to the security of the nation," I said quoting the holy Qur'an.
A week after the executions, the Islamic Council of The Gambia made a declaration that the executions were Islamic. I gave a Friday sermon at the mosque and replied the executions had nothing to do with Islam. They were un-Islamic. Even though the holy Qur'an mentions executions, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) valued forgiveness.
My comments caused a lot of commotion. The newspaper was shut down. I started receiving intimidating calls, promising that I would be arrested, telling me to leave the country. Some calls were from security forces, others claimed to be friends. Friends or foes, they didn't disclose their names.
On 3 December, I was arriving home after a funeral when I found two men from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) there waiting for me. "You are wanted [at the NIA offices] to answer some questions," they said.
It was 9.30 in the evening. When we arrived at the NIA offices in Banjul, my belongings were taken - my mobile phone, my wallet, my watch. I was then put in a jail until around 1.00am. Then they started beating, hitting and kicking me. For nine days I suffered a lot.
You never know how important and valuable freedom is until it is taken from you. I used to struggle trying to get people out of jail. Trying to bring peace. Trying to bring peaceful coexistence. I didn't know this is the way things are until the day I was detained.
You can understand ending up in prison if you commit a crime, if you are taken to a judge and sentenced. At least then you would know why you are being held, and for how long. I was abducted and then held incommunicado - I couldn't see anybody, I couldn't hear anybody.
I had not committed any crime and my conscience was clean.
After nine days, they told me I was going home and they put me in another car.
The man taking me said "we are taking you home", but they drove to a hidden place called Bambadinka, which means "hole of dragons". There I was put in a very small, very filthy, dirty room. I spent five months there.
I was kept in a dark, small room where I couldn't see or hear anything, only rats and spiders.
After five months and 17 days, I was released. Some people say that I am now free. But this is not freedom. Freedom is to be able to go home when you want to. I'm just in a bigger jail.
My ambition is to speak for those who have no pulpit, no opportunity for themselves. And to pass the peaceful message of Islam and other religions.
I'm urging people in position of authority, presidents and kings alike, to embrace the freedom of their people and to protect it. You can be a president today, you can be a leader today, you can be an authority today, but things change very quickly. You can find yourself fall from the presidency into prison. Then you will need the work of Amnesty International.
Imam Baba Leigh was held for almost six months in incommunicado detention. Amnesty International maintains that he was subjected to enforced disappearance as he was never charged with a crime, and the government denied his detention.
While in prison, Amnesty International campaigned for his release and recognised him as a prisoner of conscience as he was detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. Imam Baba Leigh is currently in the USA where he has been receiving medical treatment.