By Baba Jobe
It was Friday afternoon when I emerged from the Charing Cross tube station. I had just disembarked from a Northern Line sparsely filled train heading to Edgeware. I had travelled from the northwest of England to attend a protest organised by Gambian human rights activists to highlight the grave political events in The Gambia. It was nearly 1:00 pm when I started wondering the ever busy streets of one of London’s tourist attraction centres, Trafalgar Square. It didn’t take me long before I spotted a group of men and women of all tribes of The Gambia surrounding a compatriot giving a speech on the Gambia’s dire political situation.
The group had gathered there as part of efforts to end injustice and the political mayhem perpetrated by the dictatorial regime of Yahya Jammeh. The focal theme of the protest centered around the state murder of Ebrima Solo Sandeng and the controversial convictions of Lawyer Ousainou Darbo and 18 others of the the United Democratic Party.They were jailed last week after going through a politically motivated trial directed and dictated by Africa’s most ruthless dictator, Yahya Jammeh, using an unscrupulous judge from Nigeria.
Darboe and Co. were arrested on April 16 in Serrekunda, during a peaceful demonstration calling for the release, dead or alive of party members who were arrested on April 14 in Westfield for demanding justice and electoral reforms.
The April 14 protest was led by UDP’s Solo Sandeng who died during torture under state custody and the others were also detained incommunicado for weeks before been produced before the courts, for they were equally tortured and suffering pains and under critical condition.
Sandeng’s dead prompted another demonstration on April 16th led by the party’s leader Ousainou Darboe and top executive members. They were arrested and detained in Mile II central prison and were systematically denied bail, after being charged on various offences relating to protesting without permit and disobeying orders from security personnel to disperse.
Their trial which took several months was criticised for the judge’s failure to promote an atmosphere that could guarantee free and fair proceedings, and had resulted in the defense team walking out of court and ceased their representation for the defendants. This came after the first presiding judge offered to step aside from the case, citing sensitiveness of the case. He urged the concerned parties to solve the situation through the inter party committee.
Ousainou Darboe, a seasoned lawyer himself did not bother to defend himself or others as he believed, from the judge’s style of presiding the trial, that his ‘conviction is predetermined’ and hence to defend himself is to assist the court to convict him. This is why the conviction, although annoying, it has not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the biased nature of the country’s Judiciary. Gambians and non Gambians alike has since express dismay and condemnation to what is obviously a travesty of justice.
Gambians in the United Kingdom have reacted to the conviction by holding a protest in the streets of London to express their distaste in dictator Jammeh’s barbaric quest to silence the United Democratic Party. The protest was attended by a large crowd including some familiar faces in the struggle to restore democracy and the rule of law in The Gambia. At the beginning of the event, attendees were taking through the illegality of the conviction and were given words of encouragement needed to be steadfast on the course of fighting for collective freedom of the Gambian people.
While the focal point was on the failure to deliver justice for the victims, Gambians have in their minds the threat of disunity in the country. This is as a result of Jammeh’s tribal discriminatory remarks against the Mandinka tribe. These rhetorics are part of his ‘divide and rule’ strategy aimed at disintegrating for what has been a coherent and intertwined society for his selfish gain. As such protesters were reminded about the divisive and dangerous nature of the tribal politics the Banjul monster is playing and were advised to continue to nurture the peaceful co-existence The Gambia and her people is known for.
Later in the day protesters had procession towards the Nigerian High Commission located at the Nigeria House in London, where we stood and chanted our words of discontent on the role of the Nigerian judges in aiding the dictatorship in the Gambia to oppress dissidents. At that, we ask the Nigerian government through the High Commissioner to stop sending what we believe are judges who do not have regards for the ethics governing the legal profession, and are ready to jeopardise the judicial independence for personal gains. We highlighted our expectations of Nigeria as a member of ECOWAS to be a role model in promoting justice in the sub-region and help in eliminating systematic injustice in the Gambia.
The demonstration was not only important but was also necessary. The bloody murder of Ebrima Solo Sandeng and the subsequent imprisonment of Lawyer Ousainou Darboe and his party supporters do not only highlight the barbaric nature of Jammeh’s dictatorship, but also shows it lack of regard for humanity, human rights and dignity. Killing of innocent citizens, which is Jammeh’s master plan in suppressing critics and political opponents to maintain a strong hold on power, is alien to what the true Gambian society is identified with- a society of peace and love where unity has been the driving force for a better living. This vital characteristic of the Gambian society is now put at risk by a villain who ironically refer to himself as ‘a dictator of development’.
Ebrima Solo Sandeng’s death adds to other numerous unresolved state-sponsored murders and disappearances, including the shooting death of Deyda Hydara by Jammeh’s hitmen from the Jungullar section of the army, the illegal execution of the nine death-row inmates in 2012, the disappearance of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, the murder of Daba Marenah and others.
The campaign to silence the UDP party came at a time when Gambians are desperate to find a solution to the country’s deteriorating economy that leave many ordinary households struggling for a decent and proper living. Instead of offering solution and restore hope, the increasingly paranoid dictator has resolved to the most unfortunately divisive and discriminatory remarks to cover his horrendous actions of oppressing the UDP members.
Political supporters are not only victims of Jammeh’s discriminatory rhetorics and uncalculated actions. The declaration of the country as an Islamic Republic is not just worrying but dangerous due to its potentials of descending the country into a civil conflict. It’s clear that the Gambia is a secular state as enshrined in the constitution. This part of the constitution guarantee impartiality and equal rights and nurture an atmosphere of liberalism to all citizens of all backgrounds. This is so important to our national values that only a lunatic like Jammeh,who is only after personal interest, will attempt to extinguish it.
The Gambia is at a crossroads, that Jammeh has gone too far and too fast in undermining the safety and security of the Gambian people. It’s obvious there is no Gambian who is immune to Jammeh’s menace. Every human being is entitled to certain basic rights and dignity that deserved to be respected. Being denied these basic elements as citizens is enough to abhor and stand up to the APRC brutal dictatorship.
This is why Lawyer Ousainou Darboe decided to sacrifice his comfort zone to apply a brake on what’s a common Gambian notion of not being affected, and stood up for Solo Sandeng, not as UDP supporter but a Gambian who became a victim of tyranny. This is despite his full knowledge of the dangerous consequences. His selflessness, desire to fight for justice for all and sacrifice for humanity, define him as a man who loves his people and deserve no conviction from a mercenary judge hired by a ruthless dictator. Hence, this is why Gambians in the U.K held a political protest to express their repugnance to his conviction.