After more than five months in illegal detention without trial, the Kanifing South mosque Imam is at last freed. Until the High Court ruling last week, Imam Alhagie Ousman Sawaneh remained in detention at Jan Jan Bureh prison in the Central River Region.
Gambian authorities refused to explain any reasons for the illegal act. Sources attributed Imam Sawaneh’s arrest and detention to his orchestration of the shocking defeat of a ruling party candidate in Lower Saloum by-election last August. The contest saw a humiliating defeat of an APRC candidate, Kaba Touray, by the NRP’s Modou Bamba Gaye. Other sources maintained Sawaneh’s October 18th arrest resulted after he had questioned unwarranted burials at the Jeshwang Cemetary.
But the court heard a different version of the story. A sworn in affidavit linked the arrest to a petition Imam Sawaneh and others addressed to President Yahya Jammeh.
After all efforts to get him released had failed, Imam Sawaneh’s family contracted the services of a lawyer and sought redress at the High Court in Banjul. Defence lawyer Sheriff Tambedou filed habeas corpus application before Justice Basirou Mahoney, directing the National Intelligence Agency to produce the detained cleric. The application, filed on February 17th 2016, also ordered the NIA to “unconditionally release Imam Sawaneh from illegal detention. Lawyer Tambedou said the application is in line with section 133 of the Constitution, which empowers the court to order habeas corpus.
Lawyer Tambedou said the state had violated the applicant’s right to personal liberty. He therefore urged the court to order the NIA and the Attorney General’s office to release his client unconditionally.
But the Director of Pubic Prosecution Saleh Barkum countered Tambedou’s application. He argued that the court needed to hear from the NIA. DPP Barkum also wanted the court to consider prevalence of the circumstances in the matter before arriving at the ruling. He described Paragraph 11 of the affidavit as “vague and vacant” and that allegation in Paragraph 9 does not substantiate its claims.
After listening to both arguments, Justice Mahoney, ordered the state to release the applicant either conditionally or unconditionally. The former Justice Minister would not accept indefinite detention of Imam Sawaneh.
Meanwhile, two other Muslim clerics remain in illegal detention without trial. Imams of Brikamaba Darsilameh, Cherno Gassama and Jabang-Borehole, Sheikh Omar Colley, have spent several months incommunicado detention at Jan Jan Bureh prisons. In both cases, no reasons have been publicly given for the arrests and subsequent detentions.