Daily Press Briefing – December 1, 2016
Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
December 1, 2016
QUESTION: Mark, a quick question on Gambia.
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: That country is holding a presidential election, but internet and international phone calls are restricted, so my question for you is: How concerned are – is the United States about those restrictions? And then after the president is saying that he can rule a billion year, how concerned is the U.S. at – regarding the transparency of the —
MR TONER: Sure. So you’re obviously talking about the presidential elections in The Gambia. I’ll make a few observations about the elections and what we observed, because we did – our embassy there participated in a joint election observation effort that fielded, I think, some 15 informal observer teams to polling stations throughout The Gambia.
So a few things: one is that we noted and reported high voter turnout and generally peaceful conditions. There was a high security presence at the voting stations that we observed. We are concerned and remain concerned, however, about some of the substantial issues that you mentioned in the lead-up to the election. And that includes the arrest of opposition supporters and, as you just noted, the disruption or blockage of internet, SMS, phone, and social media. Also there were allegations of voter intimidation and – intimidation and the arrests of some journalists.
So we understand that the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission is slated to announce the results tomorrow on December 2nd and we’ll certainly look forward to those results. So again, we saw some very positive things in terms of voter turnout and the calm atmosphere in which the elections took place; those are all positives. But again, in the run-up to the election, we did have some concerns about undue pressure, intimidation, and as I mentioned, the disruption of internet services, phone services, et cetera that may have disrupted the flow of information to voters.
QUESTION: Back to Africa. The chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress opposition group in Ethiopia has been arrested. Gudina is well known, I think, in this building; has had meetings here and on Capitol Hill in the past; allegedly has met with or communicated with banned terrorist organizations.
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: Any information on that?
MR TONER: Yeah, we do, actually. We’re obviously aware that, as you noted, Oromo Federal Congress chairman Dr. Merera Gudina has been detained by the Ethiopian Government. We’re concerned about this report. We strongly encourage the government to make public any charges it has brought against Dr. Merera. If true, this arrest is yet another example of increasing restrictions on independent voices in Ethiopia and, frankly, further reinforces our view that Ethiopia’s declared state of emergency is perhaps being used to silence dissent and deny the constitutionally protected rights of Ethiopia’s citizens. And that’s contrary, I would say, to the promises of political reform made by the Ethiopian Government when the state of emergency was announced, so we’re watching it very closely.Distributed by APO on behalf of Africa Regional Media Hub.