Soldiers Held Without Trial Threaten ‘New Gambia’ Reputation

Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) – When strongman Yahya Jammeh left The Gambia for exile after 22 years, new foreign minister Ousainou Darboe pledged the tiny nation would become the “human rights capital of Africa”.

Foreign-Minister Ousainou Darboe
Gambian Foreign Minister Ousainou Darboe

His remarks came days after Jammeh’s forced departure in January, and followed the release of droves of political prisoners from the country’s notorious jails — the face of years of flagrant rights abuses under the mercurial leader.

But as the first anniversary approaches of the December 1 election that would eventually spell regime change for Banjul, AFP has learnt that a dozen soldiers are currently being held in Gambian detention far beyond the remit of the constitution, in some cases for months.

Three of those detained, Lance Corporal Abdoulie Bojang, Lance Corporal Abba Badjie and another soldier, Lamin Nyassi, were all picked up by the military police in July, according to their wives.

“He is accused of facilitating the escape of a soldier who was wanted in connection with a Whatsapp group chat,” Bojang’s wife Sunkaru Jarjue told AFP, an account repeated by Nyassi’s wife, Banna Jarju.

An official within the military who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to AFP a dozen soldiers were being held.

Map of Gambia
Map of Gambia

Although the men appeared before a judge on Friday, they have yet to be formally charged and are only expected to enter a plea of November 27.

The men’s prolonged detention is inextricably linked with suspicions of sedition and covert support for Jammeh from a faction of the army and intelligence services, but rights groups say the military figures are not exempt from the constitutional right to be charged within 72 hours.

 Mutiny concerns 

A coalition of parties fielded standard-bearer Adama Barrow as their candidate in December 2016 elections, who ultimately defeated Jammeh and took over the presidency in late January.

But then, as now, there are concerns about lingering Jammeh supporters in the ranks of the army, evoked back in July by Colonel Magatte Ndiaye, the head of a Senegalese army contingent still deployed to The Gambia by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

He told AFP that rebel elements were intent on destabilising the country and working with exiled Jammeh-era top brass, though President Barrow has said such reports are “hugely exaggerated”.

The wife of one soldier arrested at the Farafenni army camp in September, nominally for failing to show up for work, believes his family connections ensnared him while maintaining his innocence.

“They asked whether he is still communicating with his uncle (Yahya Jammeh),” Tida Bajinka Jammeh told AFP in mid-November, adding her husband had only just been released.

Gambia Armed Forces Spokesman Captain Lamin Sanyang confirmed the detention of members of the Gambian Armed Forces pending investigation for “mutinous and seditious acts” revealed by audio recordings shared by Whatsapp.

“Some soldiers are arrested in connection with a Whatsapp page they have created to discuss amongst themselves,” Sanyang told AFP.

“Investigations are ongoing and once we get the facts, we will share it with members of the public at the appropriate time. They are still under detention pending investigation into the matter,” he added.

– ‘Unconstitutional’-

Minister of Information and Communication Demba Ali Jawo meanwhile agreed the men had been detained longer than 72 hours but referred to a “drawback clause” that allowed detention to be renewed every 14 days.

That response has not satisfied human rights defenders.

Mr Gaye Sowe, Executive Director of Gambia-based Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, said the cases are “wrong, illegal and unconstitutional.”

“There is no way a provision of the Gambia Armed Forces Act or any other law can override any provision of the Constitution,” which provides a maximum three-day limit for police to charge suspects after arrest.

“This should have been done within 72 hours after they were arrested,” Sowe said.

Yahya Jammeh
Former President Yahya Jammeh

The memories of state-sponsored rights abuses and military purges remain fresh in Gambia, where the NIA carried out torture and forced disappearances on Jammeh’s orders, according to rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

A struggling court case against the so-called “NIA nine”, a group of intelligence officials including Gambia’s dreaded former spy chief Yankuba Badjie and eight of his subordinates at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), may offer a potential clue to the military arrests.

Lawyers for Badjie, the most feared agent in the dock, have not appeared for the last two hearings, but the case will go ahead without them, the presiding judge said on Thursday.

The former NIA agents are accused of killing opposition activist Solo Sandeng in April 2016, sparking rare protests, but it has run into legal difficulties over what Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou has called “rushed” police work.

Future prosecutions of Jammeh-linked crimes, he said, must be watertight.

Yahoo News

Published by

West African Journal Magazine

The West African Journal was a major magazine publication in the United States with a focus on the Mano River region and West Africa sub-region during the civil crises in Liberia and neighboring countries during the decades of the 1990s. This was the period when many citizens and others in the sub-region were fleeing their homeland due to conflicts, and the magazine was a reliable source of information covering developments in the region and in the Diaspora.  However, the magazine suspended publication several years ago but is now back. It is, therefore, delightful that The West African Journal has been reactivated. The print edition of the magazine, to be published monthly and distributed in the United States, West Africa, and other parts of the world, will provide analysis of the major events of the period under review. Due to challenges relating to availability of reading materials in the sub-region, a few hundred copies of every edition of the magazine will be distributed free of charge to libraries and reading rooms at schools and institutions of higher learning in the sub-West Africa sub-region. The Journal covers government/politics, economics/international trade/investment and partnerships, women's issues, showcase of tourism and historic attractions in West Africa in particular, and Africa in general, as well as cover the Diaspora, entrepreneurship, among others. The Journal also taps into growing interest in the Unites States regarding resource-rich Africa as the next frontier for global economic progress amid an increasing global competition for access to the continent’s abundant natural resources. The magazine will regularly cover bilateral and multilateral partnerships between the US/multinational agencies and Africa/individual African countries. More importantly, in considering the danger of Climate Change and Global Warming, The Journal serves as a strong and unrelenting advocate to create international awareness regarding Climate Change, especially how West African countries and the African Continent as a whole are being negatively impacted. Through its environmental coverage, The Journal promotes education and awareness for people to be empowered. Our experienced team of editors, reporters and feature writers are excited to bring the stories that impact politics, finance, economy, arts, health, education, climate change, women and youth issues in Africa today. Contact The West African Journal is registered and published in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. Plans are underway to open a bureau office in Liberia, from which operations in other West African countries will be coordinated. Our journalists, who bring decades of high engagement of news and reportage, include former BBC veteran correspondent Isaac D.E. Bantu, former Daily Observer Features Editor and publisher of the West African Journal Joe S. Kappia, and Pana Press Editor Tepitapia K. Sannah, and respected Photo journalist and editor Gregory Stemn. These experienced and internationally-respected journalists ensure a high standard of professional journalism. Information and inquiries for The West African Journal should be directed to the following: Editor-in-Chief; Email: WestAfricanJournalMagazine@gmail.com Isaac D.E. Bantu: Publishing Partner; Email: WestAfricanJournalMagazine@gmail.com Mailing Address: P.O. Box 55053, Washington, D.C. 20040-5053 USA Thank you. Managing Editor