By Kebba Jeffang
The High court in Banjul on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 presided over by justice Eunice Dada of the criminal division of the high court, found 19 members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) including the party leader Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, guilty of six counts charges and accordingly sentenced them to a term of 3 years imprisonment without hard labour.
The sixth accused person Yaya Bah, the driver of Momodou Sanneh was discharged while the 3rd count against all the accused persons was struck out after the prosecution failed to prove it beyond reasonable doubt.
In court, the DPP appeared for the state while the accused persons were not represented.
Justice Dada reminded the court that the charges against the accused persons are seven which are unlawful assembly, riot, incitement of violence, riotously interfering with vehicles, holding procession without permit, disobedience to lawful order and conspiracy.
She said during the trial, the defendants have applied for bail but it was turned down due to security concerns. She said the defence team led by Counsel Antouman Gaye applied for ‘denovo’ seeking for the restart of hearing following the transfer of the case to her but it was overruled.
She said the defence also applied for a ‘stay of proceedings’ as certain counts were taken to the Supreme Court for interpretation but that application was refused. She added that lawyer Gaye complained of denial by security officers of having private discussion with their clients after the court itself had granted such stand down. She explained that upon resumption in court, Mr. Gaye said “in view of the fact that the accused persons are persistently denied their constitutional right we have nothing to do here,” and he led the entire team members marching out of court.
She said in proving their case, the State has called 11 witnesses who all testified in the trial including the arresting officers and those who took the cautionary and voluntary statements from the accused persons while in detention.
She said the State has also filed number of exhibits including the statements of the defendants and also an address filed on the 19th July, 2016. She further said PW1 upon his recall, application was granted by the court, The Point newspaper copy was tendered as exhibits where the 1st accused person was quoted saying: “If this can get Solo Sandeng what about us. We are going to hold a procession to demand for his release, dead or alive without a permit because it is our Constitutional right.”
However, she confirmed that none of the witnesses were subjected to cross examination.
The trial judge indicated that on the other hand, the accused persons were called upon after the closure of the prosecution’s case to enter their defence to narrate their own side but she said the first accused Ousainou Darboe responded that: “I have said our rights have been infringed so I will not participate in a trial where my right is not protected.” She said the rest of the accused persons kept mute.
Justice Dada said at this juncture, the DPP applied to file a written address but the 1st accused person remained insistent that he would not be participating in the trial thus there will be no address from them.
“On the 19th July, 2016, prosecution’s address was adopted where the DPP urged for their conviction.”
She noted that “it is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt on whether the assembly was unlawful, the charge ‘riot’ can breach peace and whether the published banner can lead to destruction or damage of properties as stated in the charge sheet.
She said she would determine the case using three conditions including whether lack of participation of the defence can affect the trial. She said it was submitted by the DPP that the silence of the accused persons could mean that they are resting their case on the prosecution. She said her determination of the case would be based on the totality of the evidence before her.
She said she would also rely on the cautionary and voluntary statements of the accused persons. She quoted the first accused person’s cautionary statement indicating that Lawyer Darboe said he has been practicing law since 1973. She said Darboe stated in his statement that he saw an article on the Voice newspaper that some youths have participated in a protest and one of the members of the UDP Solo Sandeng was killed. She said Darboe added that they conducted a peaceful demonstration demanding for his release dead or alive and that they did not apply for a permit because it is their constitutional right. She said she would rely on the totality of the evidence before the court.
She noted that she would determine whether lack of permit can cause fear or trouble. She declared that the particular charge is proven by the prosecution because the marchers had no permit.
On count two ‘riot’ she holds that this count stands too against the accused persons because there was obstruction and the noise challenging the government.
On count three, she struck out the charge because what was established as evidence is the accused persons were demanding the release of Solo Sandeng but not inciting violence. “This count failed and it’s struck out,” she ruled.
On count four, “riotously interfering with vehicles, she said it was testimonies of evidence that there was traffic jam and accordingly it stands.”
On the fifth count of violating Public Order Act which is liable to punishment of 3 years imprisonment, she said “this is a law of the Gambia and it is very clear. This was proved beyond reasonable doubt,” said justice Dada.
She said count six of disobedience to a lawful order is well established and proven. She said the seventh charge which is conspiracy is also proven beyond reasonable doubt for the fact that all these accused persons confirmed in the cautionary statements that they met at the residence of the first accused person.
She said Yaya Bah, the sixth accused person is acquitted because he stated in his statement that he is only a driver of Momodou Sanneh and was not present in the house during the discussion but instead was standing outside where he was arrested. She said Fanta Darboe also wrote in her statement that she is dual citizen and she visited his uncle lawyer Ousainou Darboe where she was arrested after someone pointed at her.
“However, the evidence of Fanta Darboe is unbelievable. The case against Yaya Bah is struck out. Accordingly all the 19 accused persons are found guilty for all the charges except count three,” she ruled.
At this juncture the trial judge pointed out that contrary to what the first accused lawyer Darboe stated, the Nigerian judges in the Gambia are not helping to promoting justice like they do in other places. She argued that the Nigerian judges have no personal infringement against any Gambian citizen.
She also ruled that there will be no plea of mitigation for the convicts because she said they have choosen to keep mute during the trial.
Accordingly, Mr. Ousainou Darboe, Kemeseng Jammeh, Femi Peters, Lamin Dibba, Lamin Jatta, 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 were sentenced to one year for unlawful assembly, 6 months for riot, 6 months for riotous interference with vehicles, 3 years for holding procession without permit, 3 years for disobedience to lawful order to disperse and 6 months for conspiracy to commit a felony.
The sentences are to run concurrently. In effect they are jailed for three years.
Upon their conviction and sentence and prior to their leaving the courtroom, the accused persons together with their supporters jointly raised their voices to sing the national anthem.
The other militants could be seen wailing while their loved ones were being taken away to the waiting van that was later seen in the middle of the convoy heading towards the Central prison at Mile 2 under tight security.