By Mohamed Lamin Sillah
Last Wednesday was exactly four years since Justice Emmanuel Amadi of the High Court convicted and sentenced to death the former Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) and seven others. It was on July 16, 2010 that Lang Tombong Tamba, Omar Bun Mbye , BO Badjie, former head of the Military Intelligence; Kawsu Camara [Bombadier], former Coordinator of fuel at Kanilai Family Farm; Modou Gaye, former deputy Police Chief; Gibril Ngorr Secka, former head of mission at the Gambia’s Embassy in Guinea Bissau; Abdoulie Joof [Lie Joof], civilian businessman; Youssef Ezzedine [Rambo], a Lebano-Gambian businessman had their fate decided.
In the eyes of many, this was the biggest miscarriage of justice in the Gambia’s Second Republic, where justice is hardly seen to be done. This was the most massive handing down of the death penalty since the trials that followed the 1981 Kukoi-led rebellion.
The eight were found guilty on all the two counts of treason charges, including conspiracy to overthrow the government of the Gambia. In his verdict, Justice Amadi read thus: “I hereby read the judgment as follows; Lang Tombong Tamba, you are hereby sentenced to death on both counts one and two; you shall suffer death in a manner prescribed by the law. You have the option of appeal against this judgment.” The same sentence was read out to Omar Bun Mbye, BO Badjie, Kawsu Camara, Modou Gaye, Gibril Ngorr Secka, Abdoulie Joof and Youssef Ezzedine, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th accused, respectively.
Upon hearing the judgment, distressed relatives of the convicts filled the court with cries. While some of them collapsed, one woman was heard wailing: “My son is gone; he is dead. What can I do now that my son is dead?”
The Nigerian born Judge took more than three hours to read the verdict, amid warm and humid summer temperature filling the crowded Banjul courtroom.
But even before this there were melodramatic preliminaries, with all the characters attired like those stepping out of a royal event in Victorian London. As soon as Justice Amadi took his seat, he drew the court’s attention to order. Then Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Richard Chenge, also a Nigerian, announced his representation for the state. Chenge was assisted by his deputy Abdulahi Mikailu. Sherrif Tambedou announced his representation for the 1st and 4th accused, Lang Tombong Tamba and Kawsu Camara; the late Pap Cheyassin Secka announced his representation for the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh accused – Omar Bun Mbye, Bo Badjie, Modou Gaye, Gibril Ngorr Secka and Abdoulie Joof alias Lie Joof; while Hawa Sisay-Sabally announced her representation for the eighth accused Youssef Ezzedine.
The judge urged the accused persons, who were standing on their feet in the dock, to sit down, and then went ahead to read from his judgment, repeatedly citing paragraphs on the charge sheet.
According to the High Court judge, the accused were brought to court on the 19th of March on three counts of treason with the names of 10 accused persons in the charge sheet. Justice Amadi reminded the court that the prosecution had earlier applied for the names of Omar Camara and Colonel Ndure Cham be struck out on the grounds that they are not within the court’s jurisdiction. The application was granted. The judge further reminded the court that the application of defense for striking out count three had been granted, and count three had therefore been struck out. Charges of the offence of conspiracy to overthrow the democratically-elected government of the Gambia and treason, contrary to section 35 (1) (d) of the Criminal Code, Cap 10 Volume 3 Laws of The Gambia 1990.
Justice Emmanuel Amadi went on to say that the prosecution had called 16 witnesses to support their case and at the end of the prosecution’s case, the defense filed a “no case to answer submission” on the 17th of April 2010. He stated that the no case submission was overruled and he asked the accused persons to enter into their defense, which they eventually did, but none of them called additional witness or witnesses to support their case. Still commenting on the history of the four month-long marathon treason trial the judge said at the close of evidence from the defense, both the DPP and the defense filed written addresses, which were adopted on the 5th of July 2010 and the case was adjourned for judgment. He said that the evidence submitted to the court in the course of the four-month trial ran into hundreds of pages.
Justice Amadi declared that “In order to prove the offence of conspiracy, there must be an agreement between the accused persons and substantial evidence to show that there was a conspiracy. The question is how does the accused persons respond to the evidence of the PW1 Ebrima Marreh both in cross-examination and in their defense? It seems to me that the evidence of the accused persons were made to overshadow their real defense as they merely engaged in attacking the character of the witnesses. Their encounter at the panel of investigation was not properly disclosed before the court by the accused persons,”the judge explained and went ahead to some portion of evidence adduced by PW1 Ebrima Marreh, who testified that the accused persons attended meetings at the residence of the 1st accused, Lang Tombong Tamba.
According to Justice Amadi, PW1 Ebrima Marreh said the first accused, Lang Tombong Tamba sent him to link up with Kukoi Samba Sanyang and Co. The judge then narrated the evidence of PW15, an NIA officer who testified on the 28th of April 2010 about the arrest of PW1 at the Farafeni Military barracks and his arrival at the NIA office in Banjul and how PW1 Ebrima Marreh disclosed the officers who sent him to the Farafenni barracks, and in-line with that, a panel was set up to investigate the matter and the PW1 later informed the panel about the plan and the purpose of his trip to Farafeni.
Further touching on the evidence given by Ebrima Marreh, the one on his supposed meeting with Major Kuluteh Manneh at the Yundum Barracks who allegedly gave him (Marreh) both the telephone numbers of Lieutenant Colonel Yerro Jallow and that of Lt General Masanneh Kinteh Justice Amadi concluded that Marreh was somehow familiar with the first accused Lang Tombong Tamba and not a liar as claimed by the defense, noting that the PW1 gave specific names of people who were present at the meetings, their positions and his relationship with them and none of them cross-examined him on this issue. Justice Emmanuel Amadi disclosed that the evidence of PW1 was that of an insider, describing an insider as someone who “participated or took part in any act.”
He pointed out that it is unbelievable that all the accused persons were interacting on phone which shows that there was a link and intimacy between them. He further pointed out that the evidence of the first accused, Lang Tombong Tamba and three other accused persons that they were happy after they were dismissed from the armed forces could be regarded as euphemism and unbelievable having served many year’s in GAF.
Justice Amadi stated that PW1 Ebrima Marreh was a member of the gang, but he cannot however convict the accused persons on the evidence of PW1 Ebrima Marreh alone, unless his evidence is corroborated; the trial judge then read page 205 in a book published by Justice Hassan B Jallow, describing the role of an accomplice and corroboration of evidence. This legal postulation by the former Gambian Justice minister provides ample loopholes for anyone to have it held in court any allegation however untrue if one can whisk forth a witness in court and have his evidence corroborated by a second witness, no matter how unreliable that second witness is.
So though the Judge admitted that Ebrima Marreh was an accomplice but that Rui Jabbi Gassama was not an accomplice but an independent witness.
Justice Amadi said the court observed that Rui Jabbi Gassama as a businessman who traveled to Europe and America and operates all sorts of businesses. It did not matter that the witness himself admitted to be a notorious drug dealer and gun runner. It did not matter to the judge that even his name, Rui Jabbi Gassana, was false, and his true identity undetermined. The Judge said he considered Rui Jabbi Gassama “frank when he gave evidence about himself” and how he met and knew the sixth accused, Gibril Ngorr Secka; the first accused, Lang Tombong Tamba ;and the third accused, Lamin Bo Badjie.
The Judge also said that he found corroboration in the evidence of PW2, Rui Jabbi Gassama in the evidence of PW3, Kabirou Saidy, who testified before the court and explained how he had gone out with the sixth accused, Gibirl Ngorr Secka on several occasions, especially to the Samaritan Restaurant in Bissau. The Judge dilated on how PW3, Kabirou Saidy had told the court how he had warned the sixth accused, Gibril Ngorr Secka to be careful of his dealings, and had also seen the sixth accused with one Omar Kamara and PW2, Rui Jabbi Gassama.
With this Justice Amadi now a chain of one openly unreliable evidence corroborated by two witnesses, one known criminal the other, a state employee, Kabiro Saidy. With such a so-called legal foundation laid, Justice Amadi felt he was ready to plunge into judgment.
Justice Amadi said that from the evidence of, Rui Jabbi Gassama, he was convinced that the prosecution has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the first accused, Lang Tombong Tamba; the third accused, BO Badjie and the sixth accused, Gibril Ngorr Secka were part of the conspiracy which PW1 Ebrima Marreh had earlier told the court.
To back himself against any future blame, Justice Amadi reminded the court that, third prosecution witness. Kabirou Saidy, was never cross-examined on the evidence he gave by the defense.. The presiding Judge, Justice Amadi then held that the prosecution had proven the count of conspiracy to commit treason against all the accused persons and therefore found them guilty on count one, Conspiracy to commit treason contrary to Section 35 (I) of the Criminal Code Cap 10 Volume III, Laws of The Gambia.
The same went fur the charges of treason. The prosecution laid out its case by having prosecution witness Lamin Cham, a police detective and PW3 Kabiro Saidy an employee at the Gambia Embassy in Guinea Bissau; corroborate the Ebrima Marreh; and Rui Jabbi Gassama, allegations
The only thing a little out of the way to come on this count was the evidence of Lamin Cham that he was part of the officers who conducted a search on the house of the first accused, Lang Tombong Tamba and recovered some military items found in his residence.
According to the judge, the first accused Lang Tombong Tamba accepted that the said items were recovered in his residence, but he advanced the items were packed in a suitcase which he forgot after his removal from the service on the 9th of October 2009.The judge then revealed that the evidence of PW5 has been corroborated and he believes those military items were deliberately left in the house of the first accused for the purpose of a coup plot. The judge then backed up his comment with decided cases with reference to circumstantial evidences on issues of corroboration.
Justice Emmanuel Amadi pointed out the evidence of PW2 Rui Jabbi Kassama that he trained 300 mercenaries at a border between Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry. PW2 further said that the authorities in Guinea did not know about his training of the mercenaries and that he was assisted by some French and Americans in the training of the said mercenaries. However, no photographs of the training ground were tendered in court, instead we only hear about the training ground.
Under cross-examination, PC Secka asked the PW2 as to whether there was any training manual for his training of the mercenaries and PW2 responded in the negative, saying there was none, but (PW2) said he conducted the training at a place called Bambadinga and also accepted knowing a village called Bafata, but he denied knowledge as to whether there was any military barracks in that village as suggested by the defense counsel. “Based on this evidence, I therefore hold that the sixth accused and Kukoi Samba Sanyang engaged the services of the PW2 in training mercenaries on behalf of all the accused persons,” the judge stated.
Further commenting on the evidence of PW2, the judge noted that he (PW2) had told the court both Kukoi and the sixth accused, Gibril Ngorr Secka did not pay him for the 200, 000 CFA meant for the hiring of a boat to transport arms to The Gambia from Guinea, and that the 6th accused denied knowing PW2 as well as knowledge of any coup plot.The presiding judge said he believed that the 6th accused, Ngorr Secka knows PW2 very well and they had operations together. The judge then backed up his comment with citation of some of the decided cases on the issues of denying the truth, and made references to the law of evidence book authored by Hassan B. Jallow
On this issue, the judge pointed out the evidence of PW2 Rui Jabbi Kassama, who testified that he took both the sixth accused and Kukoi Samba Sanyang to a big marabout called Kankai Suwareh, who gave them some charms and ordered them and sacrifice 21 cows for the purpose of staging a coup plot in The Gambia. PW2 revealed the cost of each cow was 150,000 CFA and the said sacrifices should be held in the evening of a Friday. The judge noted that the PW2 said he misled both the sixth accused and Kukoi to believe that the marabout said the sacrifices should take place in the early morning of a Friday instead of the evening so as make their coup plot fail.
After going through all the litany of evidences, trustworthy or not, reasonable or senseless. Justice Emmanuel Amadi announced that the prosecution have proved their case beyond all reasonable doubt against the accused persons on all the two counts charged.
to be continued ..