Statement by Madi Jobarteh at the Monday press conference of Team Gomsa Bopa on the arrest of 37 Youths
I wish to state upfront that my interest here is to ensure justice and the respect for the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights and freedoms in accordance with the rule of law. At the same time let me also state upfront that I totally and unreservedly condemn acts of arson, riot, vandalism, looting and indeed any acts of violence in expressing our grievances.
As a Republic each and every Gambian citizen is an embodiment of sovereignty in which all are equal before the law. Our law enforcement and justice delivery systems are founded on and guided by the constitutional principle of presumption of innocence and fair trial and equality before the law. Hence the case that we are faced with at the moment speaks directly to these issues that we must address if we wish to ensure a just, prosperous and peaceful society as enshrined in the preamble of the 1997 Constitution, and to ensure that anyone who breaks the law face the full force of law in the appropriate and legal manner.
Based on the foregoing, these are the concerns I have with the matter at hand in the interest of justice and the rule of law:
- We know that sometime ago the late Ousman Darboe was arrested by the Anti-Crime Unit and detained and then released on bail after few days. Since his release his wife, friends and colleagues have reported that Ousman alleged to have been tortured. His wife indicated that her husband had felt bodily pain before his death. Hence there is strong allegation that Ousman was tortured causing his death.
For that matter it is necessary that a coroner’s inquest be held so as to determine the circumstances of Ousman’s death so that it would be clear if he died as a result of torture by officers of the Anti-Crime Unit or not.
Since his demise we have seen no effort or indication that there is a coroner’s inquest. Similarly, we have seen no indication that the President has appointed a Deputy Coroner as required by the Coroners Act under Section 3 subsection 2.
Therefore, as citizens we must demand for a coroner’s inquest. According to the Coroners Act the Coroner for Banjul City and Kanifing Municipality shall be a Magistrate of the first class. We ask, who is the Coroner in this case?
- On 26th July 2019 the Ministry of Interior issued a press release on the death of Ousman Darboe and stated this. I quote. “Therefore, a Committee of independent investigators from all the security sectors has been constituted to thoroughly investigate and determine whether Mr. Darboe was tortured as alleged. Should the investigations reveal that he died as a result of torture, those implicated will face the full force of the Law.”
Since then, 38 days ago today we have not seen any update from the Ministry as to the composition of that committee, or whether the committee has started work or not or the availability of the findings of that committee to date. Why is that the case?
We therefore demand that the Ministry immediately tell Gambians who are the members of that committee; when did they start work and have they completed their work or shared with the citizens the findings and recommendations of that investigation and what actions the Ministry has taken so far to ensure accountability.
We cannot and must not allow the Police to only focus on the protest of July 24 during which some houses were put on fire, yet the Police and the Government fail to act on the incidents that gave rise to that protest in the first place. Much as we need to bring arsonists to book at the same time there must also be justice for Ousman Darboe. One cannot take place at the expense of the other. We need just for both at the same time.
- Given the foregoing, transparency and accountability in line with the rule of law should have guided the IGP and the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General to exercise his wisdom and discretion by waiting until both the Coroner’s Inquest and the Ministry of Interior’s investigation were completed first before arresting and charging youths for an alleged crime that happened as a result of the arrest, detention and alleged torture of Ousman Darboe. In light of the foregoing I wish to demand that the IGP and the Attorney General to withdraw charges against these youths.
- Since the July 24 protests in Serre Kunda we did not see neither the Police nor the Ministry of Interior issue any public statement that they will conduct an investigation into the burning down of Officer Gorgui Mboob’s house. Hence how come the Police went ahead to arrest a group of youths for that case when no such investigation was conducted to the knowledge of the general public?
But the Interior Ministry did announce that they will investigate the death of Ousman Darboe but then we are yet to see any investigation report nor any arrests for that incident. Why?
- We saw that the IGP took the arrested youths before a magistrate’s court for a crime that carries life imprisonment, i.e. arson which is a crime that is triable only at the High Court. Therefore, I demand that the IGP explain why this matter was taken before a magistrate’s court which has no jurisdiction whatsoever to try such a crime! Indeed, by taking this matter before such a court means a direct violation of the rights of these youths.
- For that matter the Chief Justice must act to review the remand order of the magistrate who by all indication did not take the plea of the accused persons that she did not have jurisdiction. The Chief Justice, as a superior judge has supervisory powers over lower courts. He should have ordered the magistrate to vary her order to free these youths on bail until the matter is mentioned in the proper court. On the other hand, the Chief Justice could have also changed the decision by himself or ask any High Court judge to do so. Therefore, why has the Chief Justice failed to do so?
- From information I have on this matter some of these arrested youths were never present when Gorgui Mboob’s house was burnt down or Bakoteh police station was ransacked. A lady who approached me gave all indications that her husband was at home on that fateful day with her when the protest was unfolding. On that fateful day and the day after her husband did not go to work at Serre Kunda market because she was sick, and her husband was taking care of her. Today he is at Mile 2. Therefore, I demand that a proper investigation be conducted so as to ensure that no one is unjustly punished.
- On the particular case of Killa Ace there is more than enough public evidence that he was never present at Gorgui Mboob’s house nor at Bakoteh police station at any time on July 24. His many videos on that day attested to this fact. All that we saw was his vocal stance for accountability for police brutality and the protection of human rights. Therefore, how come Killa Ace is charged with such a capital offence as arson?
- We also know that the Serre Kunda protest was a spontaneous action triggered by the death of Ousman Darboe for being allegedly tortured by the Anti-Crime Unit. Hence it is utterly surprising to see that the police have arrested only 36 youths and charge them with unlawful assembly as if these were the only youths who took part in that protest. Why arrest only 36 people and not the rest of the hundreds of other people who also took part in the same assembly?
- Above all, why would any Gambian be charged with ‘unlawful assembly ever again in this country – a practice we saw employed by the Dictatorship to deny Gambians from holding the State accountable? In 2018 the Minister of Justice said in a public forum at the University of the Gambia Law Faculty that his Ministry will not enforce such provisions in the obnoxious Public Order Act just to ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms are respected and protected. In his Manifesto Candidate Adama Barrow said upon winning the elections he will repeal the Public Order Act within six months just to enhance democracy, human rights and popular participation. Therefore, why is the Government still using this same Public Order Act to charge citizens with unlawful assembly?
Fellow Gambians, I want us all to realise that what has happened in this case is a typical malpractice we saw happening all the time under the Dictatorship. The system continues until today unabated and this is unacceptable. Therefore, I wish to call on all Gambians to demand that the State, especially our law enforcement and justice delivery systems respect and abide by the rule of law to protect human rights and safeguard the peace and stability of this country.
We must not allow the police to destroy the lives and future of our youth by imposing trumped up charges against them. I do not support and will never encourage arson, looting, vandalism and riot in any way and for any reason. However, I will not also stand by to watch the lives of young citizens being damaged by the State just like that. We expect the Gambia Government to respect and protect our lives, property and liberty.
In that crusade we shall give all necessary support and honour to our law enforcement. Therefore, we demand that the Gambia Police Force and the entire State abide by the rule of law at all times in maintaining law and order. This is what will ensure peace and security in our country and also make our citizens to have the necessary trust and confidence in our law enforcement and justice delivery institutions. Therefore, I demand the IGP and the Attorney General review this case all over again to ensure that no human right is violated while making sure justice prevails.
Thank you for your kind attention.
The press conference was held at the Tango conference hall.