Neneh MC. On Tuesday, Cham, a Senior Private Legal Practitioner, testified before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh has very often interfered with the Judiciary anytime a case in his interest.
She said there were no separations of powers and check of balances under the former President because Jammeh interfered with the Justice System. She told the Commission that during the course of her work, she realized that the Police detained people beyond the legal span using flimsy excuses like the one stating, “A particular senior Police Officer is not present”.
Giving few examples of people that the police detained under such circumstances, Neneh MC. Cham cited Gambia’s current National Assembly Speaker, Mariam Jack Denton and Lamin Tunkara. “Lawyers would not be given access to see clients on the basis that they are still investigating or a senior officer wasn’t present. Some cases in which Yahya Jammeh had an interest were treated completely different from other cases,” the lawyer told the Commission.
She added that it is correct, as stated by former Prisons Commissioner David Colley, that the Police and Prisons department were mere keepers of such detainees with no authority over them. According to Neneh MC Cham, in rare occasions where a lawyer had access to a detainee, there was no private consultation. Prison wardens would stand nearby, listening to the conversation between the lawyer and his client.
NIA involvement in the delay of Justice
Lawyer Cham told the TRRC that former National Intelligence Agency Director General, Captain Abdoulie Saine and his then Deputy, Yankuba Badjie denied her access to a colleague of hers who was in detention for more than a month at the NIA.
“In all cases, the Executive had an interest in, there was a denial of access at the Police, NIA and Mile2 respectively?” asked Counsel Essa Faal. The witness responded, “yes,”.
She said all soldiers alleged to be involved in the 2006 foiled Coup had admitted before a military Court Martial that they were tortured.
Ms Cham testified that Hamadi Sowe was tortured, and one of his teeth was broken, while Alieu Jobe and others also sustained injuries.
On whether she participated in a treason trial apart from the 2006 foiled Coup, she responded, “yes, this was in the case of Ebrima Barrow and Dumo Saho”.
She said that State security agents brutalized detainees in all the treason trials she was involved in, namely, Ebrima Barrow, Bunja Darboe and Hamadi Sowe.
“Was torture a state Policy on people accused of treason?” asked Lead Counsel Essa Faal. “That is true, and clients will tell you that while torture was ongoing, they will insult suspects and ask them why they hated former president Yahya Jammeh”, Neneh MC Cham told the TRRC.
On access to Mile2 and general treatment towards inmates, she said she had a good relationship with Prison wardens and former Director-General David Colley. However, young wardens would sometimes delay access to her clients, so they heal from wounds sustained during torture sessions or serious brutalization.
She recalled that the State denied access to her and any other lawyer attempting to see her father, MC Cham, Ramzia Diab and Mariam Denton.
The UDP demonstrators in 2016 & the GPU cases
Neneh MC informed the Commission that three NIA and the Prisons detained three women and refused to produce them in court on the day they were supposed to appear. The lawyer said it was obvious and visible that State agents tortured the three women after they eventually appeared in court. She said the State later transferred the matter to Mansakonko High Court, another abuse on the three women. “I was denied access to Janjanbureh Prison where Fatoumatta Jawara, Nogoi Njie, Fatou Camara and Fanta Darboe were detained,” Neneh MC Cham.
The witness further informed the Commission that Mariama Jack Denton’s arrest gave birth to the Gambia’s Female Lawyers Association (FLAG). The purpose was to defend female lawyers, women, and children who had trouble with the law.
She recalled that the association defended a 17-year-old girl initially held at Mile2 in Banjul for 2 years after her ordeal started at Janjangbureh Prisons.
Looking at the Justice Sector and the relationship between the Bar and the Judiciary, Ms Cham said, “There were opinions of prima facie in cases brought forward by the Ministry of Justice. There was no need to take them to court, but they still tried the accused in court, discharged and acquitted them”.
This was the case with Babou Jangha and Alagie Nying, where there was no evidence while the voluntary statements were a complete denial of the charges.
On The Gambia Press Union (GPU) case, Neneh MC Cham recalled no prima facie case against Bai Emil Touray, former GPU President. “Still, the court convicted him because he failed to help the NIA with their Investigations,” Neneh MC Cham told the TRRC.
She added that the Yahya Jammeh regime compromised the independence of the Judiciary largely.
Lawyer Cham mentioned the GPU 7, where Justice Joseph Wowo overruled every objection from the Defense. “To the extent that Senior Counsel Antouman Gaye applied for Wowo to recuse himself from the case because he would not partake proceedings in a Kangaroo Court”.
This, she added, made former Chief Justice Emmanuel Agim reassign the case to a worst Judge, Justice Emmanuel Fangbele, who later convicted the journalists to 2 years of imprisonment.
She urged this government to implement every recommendation that would come out of the TRRC Commission. “It is the last hope for many victims. The Commission should come up with recommendations that would make sure that ‘Never Again’ should such violations happen in this country”, Neneh MC Cham concluded her testimony.