Arrest, Detention and Feared Disappearance of Imam Alhaji Ousman Sawaneh
Let Us All Help Free Alhaji ousman Sawaneh.!!!!
Imam Alhaji Ousman Sawaneh was arrested by agents of the National Intelligence Agency NIA) on December 8th, 2015. State refused to release him since the High Court ordered his release on March 22nd 2016.
Imam Sawaneh, a native of Kerewan Samba Sireh in Central River Region, lives in Kanifing South. Until his arrest and subsequent continued detention incommunicado, Imam Sawaneh had been leading prayers at the Kanifing South Mosque.
Kanifing South is a middle-class neighborhood where some fairly rich, prominent Gambians reside. They included the late Alhaji Marie Tambadou, father of Lawyer Ba and Sheriff Tambadou; the late Mustapha Leigh, one time Technical Director at the Ministry of Works. Maja Sonko, the tough resilient entrepreneur behind Sonko Jileng Enterprises, lives in this highly diverse neighbourhood. This mixed ethnic makeup settlement has Akus living side by side with Sarahulle-speaking people.
As an Imam, Sawaneh manages the affairs of both the area’s mosque and graveyard, which is three hundred meters away. The link between the mosque and graveyard did not become precarious until about five to six years ago when the feared National Intelligence Agency opened shop in a house that used to belong to a group of Dutch men who claimed to be dealing in the processing and exporting of fish and other seafood. However on about Wednesday 2nd June 2010 the British Serious and Organized Crime Agency, SOCA, raided a place owned by this Dutch group in Bonto, an island, more than 40 kilometers outside Banjul and made a record catch of more than two tons of pure cocaine. More than a dozen men, all foreigners, most of them South Americans, were arrested and detained. Though the arrests were headline news on the BBC on Friday 4th June, the Gambian authorities stayed tight-lip on the case until Wednesday 9th June, making many suspect their complicity in the matter.
The arrested cocaine-bust suspects were quickly arraigned before a Magistrate’s court in Banjul, but even before the case was finished with, the estate on which their so-called fish and seafood exporting company was located in was seized hold off by Government and occupied by a state security agency called Operation No Compromise, before being finally handed over to the National Intelligence Agency, NIA. The place was turned to both a detention center and some of the torture chambers that the agency routinely uses. Because of the intensification of the cruel practice of torture by men specially brought in from Senegalese southern province of the Casamance, inmates died almost daily and the agency used the graveyard less than fifty meters away. The night watchman responsible for the graveyard reported to the mosque committee that men from the NIA came every night to secretly bury bodies at the graveyard and that he was compelled to give them the key to the graveyard when they asked for it.
The mosque committee, in October 2015 last year held a meeting in which the issue was tabled. Members were quite infuriated by the secret nocturnal burials and at a second meeting in which the watchman was invited; the matter was again taken up. Imam Sawaneh volunteered to be the custodian of the key to the graveyard. The watchman was told to ask anyone requesting for the key to consult with Imam Sawaneh.
It took only about a week in November 2015 that some men, from the NIA, came to visit Sawaneh at around 8.30 PM asking for the key to the graveyard. He accordingly asked them to wait till the next morning to return and to come with a death certificate and other necessary documents pertaining to the deceased. The men went back rather frustrated and angry. Other men, also suspected to be from the NIA, came over several times and were met with the same response.
What Imam Sawaneh and his fellows in mosque committee were doing was a most moral and honorable duty of citizens challenging the state and trying to make it do things properly. Both as good citizens and Muslims it is their right and duty to tell cowardly, secret murderers that they should not bury the dead without informing their kit and kin; without having the death properly recorded; without having them buried according to religious rituals, and that we in The Gambia do not know of secret nocturnal burials.
Imam Sawaneh was not a type of citizen, or type of Muslim who would let such things transpire without making any query. It is known that he was a signatory to a petition sent to President Jammeh to have rice growers’ association committee in his native village of Kerewan Samba Sire dissolved as they ceded a large plot of rice land to Yahya Jammeh when he was in a so called “agricultural” nationwide tour in 2014.
According to some observers, Mr. Basirou Jawara has engaged a lawyer to sue the state on a writ of habeas corpus to force the state to “produce” Alhaji Ousman Sawaneh at a Magistrates Court on Wednesday 9th March 2016 but the state failed even honor the plea with its presence in court.
It is therefore perhaps necessary for us in the Diaspora to write to Yahya Jammeh, the Minister of Justice, the Mayor of KMC, and the Director General of the NIA asking for the immediate release of Alahaji ousman Sawaneh who has been made to disappear since the 8th of December2015. The team of NIA men who came to arrest him came to the graveyard where Sawaneh and other men were clearing and cleansing the yard on that day.
Now that the High Court orders NIA and AG to release Kanifing South Imam, which they still fail to respect is a source of concern.
Imam Sawaneh did what he did for all us citizens and Muslims. We therefore ought to stand by him in this his hour of need. The hour is now four months and three days. Unless we raise some noise, the authorities may make his disappearance permanent.