The six soldiers recently convicted for their roles in the failed 30th December 2014 insurgency to oust President Yahya Jammeh from power, Wednesday filed an appeal against their sentences that ranged from life in prison to death sentences. This followed their conviction at the secret court martial held at the Fajara barracks in Gambia. Many observers expressed concerns over procedures that the court followed, especially as the government press release revealed that the six defendants were provided only three lawyers from NALA (National Agency for Legal Aid), many saying that considering the gravity of the charges, each should have been provided a lawyer to thoroughly defend them.
Security sources have hinted that Lawyer Judith Ngozi Gbuji, a legal officer and head of the Legal Department at the National Agency for Legal Aid (NALA) is stepping in to take over the appeal case for the military officers recently convicted by the kangaroo court martial that conducted proceeding in secrecy, instead of public trial as required under The Gambia’s Constitution. Public confidence in NALA taking over a high-profile life-and-death appeal case is at its lowest ebb. The agency, like the national assembly and other arms of the Government of The Gambia, is viewed as another tool of Dictator Jammeh founded to entrench his power by providing deceptive legal representation for distressed citizens who have been robbed of their rights to choose competent lawyers to represent them in courts.
Established in September 2010, NALA is under the Ministry of Justice tasked with responding to challenges faced by the poor and vulnerable persons in accessing justice due to lack of funds. NALA’s activities and availability in The Gambia is not known to many Gambian citizens until the secret court martial ended, when it was revealed that they were tasked with defending the accused soldiers. NALA came about after international outcry over many accused persons in The Gambia’s criminal justice system not having access to legal representation during trials. Sources however state that “NALA’s purpose has been hijacked to serve the interest of the Gambian despot Yaya Jammeh”, whose brutal regime has come under close observation and criticism due to human rights abuses, lack of respect for good governance and the rule of Law.
Meanwhile a press statement from The Gambia Television last week stated that, Justice Emmanuel Amadi, a Nigerian hired by the Yaya Jammeh to serve as judge on the Gambian bench, was appointed as judge advocate during the secret court martial. Director of Public Prosecution S.H. Barkun, another Nigerian, led the team of prosecutors that comprised of two state counsels, a lawyer and legal officer at the Gambia Armed Forces.
The six convicts who began serving prison terms at the Mile II Central Prison were said to be bearing visible and gruesome torture marks on their bodies. Modou Njie, a former private soldier in the Gambia Armed Forces, reportedly captured at the scene of December 30 attack had torture marks on his back and chest as well as a broken right hand, all these injuries were sustained during horrific torture sessions, sources intimated.
Family members including mums, dads, friends and the 13 year old son of one of the accused insurgents are still under detention at the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA) denied access to family members and lawyers since 1st January 2015, in blatant violation of their constitutional rights which states that no one should be held for more than 72hrs without being brought before a court of law and charged. A source in the Gambia said the “International community are watching a human catastrophe happening in Gambia, especially the treatment of prisoners”, he said that “the world should demand access to those serving life and death sentences in Gambia, because many have already been secretly executed by Yaya Jammeh and will not be accounted for”.