By Momodou Jarju
The Gambia’s Ambassador to Turkey, Kemesseng SM Jammeh, has given a detailed account of the April 16 demonstration which led to the incarceration of top United Democratic Party (UDP) members which he was part of.
Jammeh, former teacher and Chief Councillor said it all started when opposition parties in the country decided to unite and write to the Independent Electoral Commission under the leadership of Mustapha Carrol with a view to creating the condition of free and fair elections by changing the flawed electoral laws. The main parties were PDOIS, UDP, and NRP. This was after the 2011 presidential and 2012 parliamentary elections.
“So we wrote to the IEC to summon a meeting and we came up with some conditions, about 17 or something like that, to be considered by meeting of all political parties including the APRC so that we can discuss these things and chart a new way forward so that at least we can have a free and fair election,” he said.
However, he said there was no reply. He said the aforementioned parties agreed at the time to travel the length and breadth of the country to explain to the electorate why they did not participate in the parliamentary election, explain to them their demands for free and fair elections and also the efforts they were making to make sure that all things were regularized.
“We had eight (8) days to tour the country to explain to the people. We told them that we are also making efforts with the IEC so that the situation can be regularized,” he said.
Jammeh said IEC did not reply them up to 2015 and they sent a reminder which they never replied to. At this time, he said the youth were also organising themselves to create understanding across the parties.
“So nearer to 2016, they again refused to reply to us. Then came 2016, election was scheduled for December. These youths unknowing to the executive organised and mobilised themselves to stage a peaceful demonstration which is permissible by the laws of the country to demand for the creation of free and fair elections,” he explained.
Jammeh said on 14 of April he heard that the youth went for a demonstration in the evening led by UDP youth president, late Solo Sandeng, adding that they were trampled upon, arrested and manhandled by the paramilitary; then later taken to PIU headquarters and eventually to Banjul. Solo Sandeng, Falan Sonko, Fatoumatta Jawara, Fatou Camara, Nogoi Njie, Jukuna Suso, Kafu Bayo, Ebrima Jabang, Modou Ngum, Bubacarr Jiateh, were some of them he remembered.
“I understand that they were tortured, taken to Mile 2 then to the NIA at the torture chamber,” he said, adding that the matter came to their knowledge and they found it necessary to have an emergency meeting of the executive committee of the UDP.
“I received a call in the morning of the 16th around 7am from Lawyer Darboe to inform me that he had information as a result of the torture and detention of these people; that Solo Sandeng died in the night of the 15 and that he was secretly buried at Tanji. So that made it necessary for us to have a press conference on Saturday 16 at 12 o’clock.
“The other detainees were in very bad condition people like Nogoi Njie, Fatoumatta Jawara and Fatou Camara. They were in serious condition. We received information that these people were seriously tortured overnight and that Solo had to succumb to the torture and passed away,” he said.
“I received the news with dismay and shock,” he said, “and couldn’t just believe it.
He said when Lawyer Darboe announced to journalists about the sad news, the atmosphere turned chaotic, saying a lot of UDP supporters and family of the decease came.
“That was the day when Darboe told the media and gathering that they would hit the street to demand Solo Sandeng dead or alive, which was done.”
As they marched towards Westfield around Comium Office, he said, the paramilitary descended on them and started beating and eventually arrested them.
“The most seriously wounded people, I would name three. Lawyer Ousainou Darboe was seriously wounded on his head, Momodou Lamin Dibba he nearly lost his eye and Lamin Jatta of Brikama was seriously wounded on his head. I also had my share. I was hit on my head and my hand, wounded also,” he explained.
Jammeh said some of us went for treatment, then later taken to the PIU, arranged and spread mattresses for them in a big hall-both men and women arrested to spend the night there, adding that Ousman Sonko, former minister of interior and Yankuba Sonko, former Inspector General of Police visited them, stared at them and said nothing.
He said the following day, they were taken to Mile 2 where they were received by David Colley, the director general of the prison with his team and they were documented and taken to the Remand Wing which was overcrowded. They were about 30 or 40, he said. “At that point, nobody told them why they were arrested,” he told the commission.
He said the Muslim month of fasting Ramadan met them there and on the 21st day of Ramadan the officers did not allow any food to enter Mile 2 because there was a problem in the main yard which he didn’t know.
“So, we were denied food. We were forced to eat the bad food. It’s unforgettable. Instead of allowing our people to come and bring us food, one philanthropist came to slaughter a bull in Mile 2 and cook food when our own food was refused,” he said.
Jammeh revealed that they spent 34 days in Mile 2 and later were taken to court for trial and sentenced for 3 years imprisonment on 20th July 2016. They were charged for demonstrating without permit, he said.
But according to him, they were wrongly charged because it was a peaceful demonstration that does not need permit.
He said 17 prominent Gambian lawyers represented them in the trial which he is grateful for even the ruling was not in their favour. Some of the lawyers were Antouman Gaye, who was the lead counsel; Amie Bensouda; Sheriff Tambedou etc. he thanked them for their services who appealed the judgment.
“We appealed this unlawful sort of decision and the matter was in court until near to the election when we heard that the opposition parties had the good sense of coming together to form a coalition to end the stewardship of a dictator,” he said.
They would be later released after the change of government in the December presidential election.
“When the victory of the coalition opposition came about, well we thanked God and by that time there was a pending appeal against our unlawful imprisonment which took place on the 5 December. Prior to that some enthusiasts were even attempting to come and just remove us from Mile 2 by force, but they were urged to wait,” he said.
How they were released? Their lead lawyer filed a motion after the change of regime which succeeded.
“Because the status quo has changed in the country and there were some prisoners who should be instrumental in whatever government is to be formed. So, the need arose for us to be released immediately and that motion by Honorable Antouman Gaye was not opposed and that was how we gained our freedom,” he said.