BANJUL (AFP) -Rights activists have demanded the release of a former government minister and a top army officer they say are being held without charge by Gambian secret police.

Supporters say the detention of ex-finance minister Mamboury Njie and presidential guard commander Solo Bojang is part of a wider pattern of dissidents being arbitrarily re-arrested after being acquitted by the courts.

Njie was detained in December 2012 on charges of “economic crime” but cleared when the case finally came to trial in June last year.

Family told AFP he was re-arrested at his home on October 9 by agents from the country’s NIA spy agency.

He went missing for three weeks, they say, before being detained at the agency’s headquarters in Banjul, and has been under police guard in hospital since November 28, without being charged with any crime.

Bojang, a commander of the State Guards, the president’s personal bodyguard, walked free from court in May last year after being acquitted on a string of charges including theft and abuse of office, but was rearrested by NIA operatives almost immediately.

“We have not set our eyes on him since May 12 2014. We do not know where he is kept and have not heard from him either,” a relative told AFP.

Omar Jallow, the leader of the opposition People’s Progressive Party, called for the release of both men, saying their continued detention showed “total contempt for the constitution and the judiciary”.

“Since 1994 we have been witnessing systematic and continuous violations of our constitution and a total disregard for the decisions of our courts,” he told AFP.

The outrage over the cases comes with rights campaigners condemning unlawful detentions and a string of other alleged abuses in the Gambia over recent weeks.

The west African nation, the smallest on the mainland, has long been dogged by rights concerns under President Yahya Jammeh’s administration.

The regime of the man who says he can cure AIDS is often pilloried for human rights abuses, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture and the muzzling of journalists.

A coalition of rights organisations in Senegal called in January on the international community to investigate alleged Gambian abuses including the detention without charge of relatives of the alleged authors of a failed coup attempt.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a Washington-based pressure group, released a briefing paper on Friday documenting what it described as 15 years of widespread abuses by the Gambia.

“As the recent detention without charge of 27 Gambians suggests, the attempted coup last December has only emboldened President Jammeh to tighten his grip on power,” Kerry Kennedy, the group’s president, said in a statement.

The paper accuses the regime of extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances spanning a decade, as well as arbitrary arrests, attacks against the gay community and a deterioration of free speech.