By Kebba Jeffang
At the high court in Banjul on Thursday, 21st April, 2016 presided over by Justice O. Ottaba, the state filed 6 count charges against 18 people that allegedly took part in the demonstration at Westfield junction on Thursday, 14th April demanding for electoral reform in the Gambia.
The state was represented by Saleh H. Barkum, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and others, whilst Lawyer Antouman Gaye and others appeared for the accused persons.
The accused persons all pleaded not guilty to single count charges that are levelled against them.
They included Lamin Sonko, Bubacarr Gitteh, Baba Ceesay, Modou Touray, Ebrima Janko Ceesay, Lamin Camara, Alhagie Jammeh, Lansana Beyai, Lamin Jatta, Lamin Marong, Ebrima Jadama, Pa Ousman Njie, Kekuta Yabo, Bubacarr Jah, Muhammed Jawneh, Bubacarr Touray, Saderr Secka and Alhagie Fatty.
The statement of offence on count one alleges that the 19 accused persons held an unlawful assembly contrary to section 70 of the Criminal Code Cap 10 Vol. 3 laws of the Gambia 2009.
The particulars of offence on the said count states that the accused persons on the 14 April, 2016 at Westfield, Kanifing Municipality and within the jurisdiction this honourable court with intent to breach the peace and provoke other persons to breach same unlawfully assembled in a manner that causes fear in the neighborhood and thereby committed an offence.
On count two, they are charged with ‘Riot’ contrary to section 69 and punishable under section 71 of the Criminal Code Cap 10 Vol 3 laws of the Gambia.
The particulars of count two state that the same people at the same place and time had assembled without a permit with intent to breach the peace and cause terror to the public and thereby committed an offence.
On count three, they are charged with incitement of violence contrary to section 59B (b) of the Criminal Code Cap 10 Vol3 laws of the Gambia 2009.
Its particulars state that the same accused persons, at the same time and place, published banners with statements calculated to lead to the destruction or damage to properties and thereby committed an offence.
Count four alleges that the accused persons were “riotously interfering with vehicles contrary to section 78 of the Criminal Code Cap 10 Vol3 laws of the Gambia 2009.”
The particulars of offence on the said count states that the same people at the same time and place and without a permit, did assemble in a manner that prevented the movement of vehicles around Westfield and thereby committed an offence.
The fifth count alleges that the accused persons were charged for “holding a procession without a permit contrary to section 5(5)(a) of the Public Order Act Cap 22 Vol 4 of the laws of the Gambia 2009.”
The particulars of the offence state that they held a public procession without a permit from the Inspector General of Police and thereby committed an offence.
On the sixth and final count, it is alleged that the accused persons disobeyed an order to disperse from an unlawful procession contrary to section 5(5) (b) of the Public Order Act Cap 22 Vol 4 of the laws of the Gambia 2009.
The particulars of offence on the said count state that the same accused persons had disobeyed the order of Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdoulie Sanneh and Superindent Momodou Sowe to disperse from their unlawful assembly and thereby committed an offence.
All the 19 accused persons denied any wrong doing after every charge was read out in court.
At this juncture, DPP Barkum applied for an adjournment.
However, Mr. Gaye informed the court that his colleague Amie N. Bensouda has some applications to make.
In her application, counsel Bensouda argued that in a criminal case, the DPP after plea taking should consider the bail of the accused persons instead of applying for an adjournment. She said some of the accused persons in this case are not applicants in the earlier bail application. She said as accused persons, they have the right to bail. She argued that the earlier application was made when these accused persons were not arraigned to take their pleas.
“All the charges against these accused persons are bailable and that most of them are misdemeanors. All the sentences of the charges are fines and not more than 3 years in jail. I see no reason why they could not be bailed. The accused persons were arrested on the 14th April for alleged offences. Today is 21st April which makes their detention exceeding the constitutional provision of 72 hours,” said Bensouda.
At this stage, the DPP rose to argue that counsel is making an application of bail instead of oral bail application.
However, the defence counsel denied that she is moving a bail application. She urged the court to let the oral application to proceed, adding that nothing prevents the court from granting her clients bail.
Again, the DPP said counsel should confine herself to an oral application and not to make a bail application.
Lawyer Bensouda argued that in a criminal case in every common law jurisdiction, the DPP is expected to consider a bail application after the arraignment instead of seeking for an adjournment.
“The only option for this court is to immediately grant bail to the accused persons,” submitted counsel Bensouda.
In objecting to such an application, DPP told the court that in the interest of justice, the bail application should be brought formally. He said it is the nature of the case that guides the court.
“It is common knowledge that this case is an issue of national security which could be at stake. We need facts to base on but without a formal application, we cannot have them. We therefore asked the court to disregard the oral application,” said DPP Barkum.
He further cited the case of Ousainou Darboe and 18 others indicating that that case has similar facts and application. He said court decided in that one that oral application cannot be made an order for a formal application. He said there is an application for bail in this case which is labelled as Ousainou Darboe and 36 others.
However, Mrs. Bensouda insisted that she has made no bail application in her submission but that the applicants are challenging the unconstitutionality of their detention without trial.
At this juncture, the trial judge decided to adjourn the matter for ruling on Monday, 25th April, 2016 at noon.