By Alhagie Jobe
A judge at the Special Criminal Court in The Gambia today, July 20, sentenced the country’s leading opposition leader Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and 19 other party officials and supporters to three years imprisonment.
Nigerian machinery judge Justice Eunice Dada delivered the verdict Wednesday in a highly secured and crowded court room in the capital Banjul and sentenced Mr Darboe and 18 others to serve 3 years in prison consecutively and freed one Yahya Bah, who was said to be the driver of one of the accused person, Momodou Sanneh.
The 20 accused persons are Ousainou Darboe, Kemeseng Jammeh, Femi Peters, Lamin Dibba, Lamin Jatta, Yaya Bah, Babucarr Camara, Fakebba Colley, Ismaila Ceesay, Momodou Fatty, Dodou Ceesay, Samba Kinteh, Mamudou Manneh, Nfamara Kuyateh, Fanta Darboe, Lamin Njie, Jukuna Suso, Momodou L.K. Sanneh, Yaya Jammeh and Masanneh Lalo Jawla.
Mr Darboe and Co were arrested since April 16th and charged with seven counts of unlawful assembly, riot, incitement of violence, riotously interfering with traffic, holding a procession without a license, disobeying an order to disperse from an unlawful procession and conspiracy.
After several hours of reading her verdict, Justice Dada said she found the accused person guilty of all counts charged except count 3 (incitement of violence) saying the state represented by DPP, Hadi Saleh Barkum did not prove that charge beyond reasonable doubt. Meanwhile, she found the accused persons guilty in all other counts and convicted them to each three years imprisonment. She also denied the accused persons the chance to offer a plea of mitigation saying Darboe will use the opportunity to make a speech.
The defense team was led by Senior Counsel A.A.B. Gaye along with A.N Bensouda, Hawa Sisay-Sabally, SM Tambadou, B.S. Touray, OMM Njie, Mary A. Samba, Rachel Y. Mendy, Neneh Cham, Musa Bachilly, Abdoulie Sissoho, Yasin Senghore, Hajum Gaye, M. Touray, Sagar Jahateh, and Dayoh Small all stood in for the accused persons in the over three-month long trial.
After today’s verdict, Mr Darboe and Co. who showed no sign of disappointment, stood inside the court room and sang the Gambia’s National Anthem.
Mr Darboe and Co. were arrested since 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 is alleged to have 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.
His death prompted another demonstration on April 16th led by the party’s leader Ousainou Darboe and top executive members who were also arrested at the spot, detained at the state central prison of Mile II and currently undergoing trial. Mr Darboe and Co have since been arrested, charged and detained in remand custody at the state central prison of Mile II.
The UDP has since issued a statement condemning the excessive use of force against the peaceful, unarmed and defenseless protesters and alert the international community of the escalating political situation in the country. The UDP insisted that Gambian people will remain steadfast in their fight for freedom, justice and democracy using all the lawful means available to them.
Among the new electoral law is anyone who wants to register a political party or run as presidential candidate has to pay GMD500, 000, amounting to US$11,870 or £8,240, which the opposition and critics says is simply aimed at undermining pluralism in the economically-stagnant country and way of weakening the effectiveness of the opposition. The government, however, said the law was necessary to ensure parties are well organized.
Gambians head to the polls in December 2016 in which current president Yahya Jammeh is seeking for a fifth term.