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Gambia high court frees 12 more prisoners jailed for protest

By Emma Farge

BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambia's high court released a further 12 political prisoners on Tuesday, their lawyer said, adding to hopes of an end to years of repression after long-ruling President Yahya Jammeh lost elections last week.

Their release comes a day after another court granted bail to a prominent lawyer Ousainou Darboe, whose arrest helped galvanize opposition to Jammeh, breaking a climate of fear in the tiny West African country.

Darboe was freed on bail along with 18 other political prisoners pending an appeal of their sentence for "unlawful assembly", the same charge on which the dozen released on Tuesday were jailed.

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The election result, and Jammeh's decision to accept it on a continent where veteran leaders rarely lose, took Gambians and international observers by surprise and sparked days of wild celebrations across the seaside capital Banjul.

President-Elect Adama Barrow is due to be sworn in January, although political sources said a meeting scheduled for Tuesday between him and Jammeh was canceled.

Tuesday's group, detained after a demonstration in May, originally numbered 15. Two women, included one with a tiny baby, were previously released while a third prisoner died in detention following an operation his family said they never authorized.

"The writing is on the wall for all these cases," said defense lawyer Antouman Gaye. "Either the government concedes they are highly politically motivated cases with no legal basis or the incoming government drops them."

The United States and the United Nations have called for all political prisoners in Gambia to be freed.

(editing by John Stonestreet)

 
 
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