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June 27, 2016 (GIN) – A leading opposition figure in the Gambia has been found dead in a jail cell shortly after his arrest for taking part in a protest, according to local reports.

The cause of death of Solo Sandeng was listed as ‘shock and respiratory failure,’ according to a medical certificate of death.

Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the National Organizing Secretary of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), had been taking part in a protest demanding electoral reforms ahead of December’s presidential polls.

Amnesty International has called for an independent probe into Sandeng’s death.

“The tragic death in detention of Solo Sandeng must leave no space for impunity. The authorities must conduct an immediate, thorough and independent investigation,” said Amnesty’s Sabrina Mahtani.

“Gambia must uphold the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, especially in advance of the elections. All of the peaceful protesters arrested by the authorities should be immediately and unconditionally released. Any who are injured must receive medical treatment,” Amnesty’s West Africa researcher added.

The April 14 protest led to the arrest of some five members of the UDF after police dispersed the crowd. The arrested activists were taken to Mile 2 Prison and later to the National Intelligence Agency for interrogation.

Solo Sandeng was a long-time activist in Gambia. He was previously arrested in 2013 for his political activities.

The current president, Yahya Jammeh, is seeking re-election. The 50-year-old former military ruler has been in power since 1994 and has said he will rule for a billion years in response to proponents of term limits.

He sharply criticised suggestions that his tenure should be limited and pledged to continue being at the service of Gambians.

“This is a democracy and yet they speak of term limitations. Whichever western head of state or other leader wants to speak about term limitations… let them come to Gambia to talk to me,” Jammeh is quoted to have said to western leaders and rights groups.

The presidential election will take place on December 1, followed by general elections on April 6, 2017. w/pix of Gambians at Amnesty protest

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