Rohey Jadama Reporting from Mansakonko LRR
The Mansakonko High court in the Lower River Region of the Gambia presided over by Justice Simeon Ateh Abi on 21 July, 2016 has sentenced Mrs Fatoumatta Jawara, the Chairperson of the Female Youth Wing of the United Democratic Party(UDP) and 10 others to fines and imprisonment.
The other convicts are Lamin Sonko, Modou Touray, Lasana Beyai, Lamin Marong, Alagie Fatty, Nogoi Njie, Fatou Camara, Kafu Bayo, Ebrima Jabang and Modou Ngum.
The accused persons were charged with ‘Unlawful assembly’, ‘Riot’, ‘Incitement of Violence’, Riotously interfering with vehicle’, ’Holding a possession without a permit’, ‘Disobeying an order to disperse’ and ‘conspiracy to commit a felony’.
Justice Abi said the accused persons are arraigned on an amended information on 15 June, 2016. He said when the charges were read to the accused persons they kept mute and pursuant to sections 223 and 225 of the Criminal Procedure Code, he entered a plea of not guilty for all of them.
He said in a criminal trial the onus lies in the hands of the prosecution to prove its case.
The trial judge said the prosecution called a total of 8 witnesses to prove its case.
He said Pateh Baldeh the first prosecution witness(PW1) said on the 14 April, 2016, while at the PIU office in Kanifing and while on standby they received a directive to go to Westfield junction to go and disperse a group of people who gathered unlawfully protesting against the government.
PW1 said upon their arrival with their commander, they found a large group of people assembling unlawfully and blocked the traffic on the high way, obstructing movement of the vehicles. All the vendors’ shops at Westfield were closed and people were running.
The trial judge said the witness added that they found them with their banners and flags. He said an unknown person was holding a public Address System advocating “Gambians are hungry, why is the border closed? We need a proper election for a better reform”.
He continued, “That is the time our commander used a P.A System and asked them for a permit , there was no answer from anybody . They started shouting again provoking the situation and that is the time their commander read the proclamation to them. “That in the name of the president of the Islamic Republic of the Gambia that I’m hereby warning all of you to disperse from your this unlawful assembly and go to your lawful businesses”. He said they disobeyed his commander and he again used different local languages to them but they still disobeyed him.
He further told the court that while they were waiting for an order, his commander told them that this is the last warning that whosoever refuses to disperse from this unlawful assembly shall be arrested with their minimum force. He said they refused and that they were given an order for their arrest which they effected. He said those who were arrested were taken to the kanifing PIU for further police actions.
The accused persons were asked whether they have any questions for PW1 and whether they wish to cross-examine him but they did not respond to him, said the judge.
He said the court ruled that in view of the failure of the accused persons to ask PW1 questions when called upon to do so, the court recorded that all the accused persons had no question for the witness and the witness was thereby discharged.
He said at the closure of the prosecution’s case the accused persons were asked whether they wished to open their defence, but there was no response from them and they were reminded of their right to remain silent.
He said Lawyer A.M Yusuf in his address urged the court to sentence the accused persons because the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
The trial judge held that the testimonies of PW1, PW2, PW3 were consistent. He said they all testified that a group of people assembled unlawfully at Westfield, that all the vendors’ shops were closed and people were running. He said none of the accused persons cross-examined the witnesses therefore, he said the evidence stands uncontroverted. He also added that the banners and whistles also tendered in court were not challenged by the accused persons.
“It is evidence that they intended to disrupt the traffic and that is in fact an offence. Carrying a banner and the wordings being read by a member of the group is an assembly for a purpose. I therefore find and hold that it is as a result of fear that the neighborhood ran away and the prosecution has proven the elements of count one”, said the trial judge.
Justice Abi said it is already in evidence that when PW1, PW2 and PW3 went to Westfield they found the accused persons with banners stating “Why are the borders closed?”, “Gambians are Hungry”, “No fifth term for a dictator, enough is enough”, “We need an electoral reform”. He held that the elements of count three has also been proven by the prosecution.
“The evidence of PW1, PW2 and PW3 indicated that the accused persons assembled in a manner which made the neighbourhood to run away. I find and hold that the accused persons riotously interfered with vehicles. The prosecution has proven the elements of count four”, said the trial judge.
Justice Abi said the prosecution has proved that a public procession has taken place without a permit. He said PW1, PW2 and PW3 testified that when their commander asked the accused persons a permit, they failed to produce it.
He continued, “To make matters worse the accused persons refused to cross-examine the witnesses or open their defence to challenge that evidence. The witness emphasised that their commander took a megaphone and read the proclamation to them but they disobeyed the order and they were warned again and they refused to take heed and the order for arrest was given which was effected”.
Justice Abi added that the witnesses testified that they found the accused persons in large crowds at Westfield and the accused did not challenge this evidence. He held that the prosecution has proved count seven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused persons conspired to commit felony.
He said the 1st accused Lamin Sonko stated in his statement that he received a call from one Solo Sandeng to meet him at Westfield. Fatoumata Jawara also said in her statement that she was from school MDI the day of their arrest and she further said she is the female youth leader of the UDP. He said it is only Alagie Fatty who did not associate himself as an active member of the UDP.
“This court cannot speculate what the accused persons would have said in their defence and the evidence presented by the prosecution is overwhelming. I therefore, find and hold that all the accused persons are guilty on all the counts.
All accused persons are sentenced on count one (‘Unlawful assembly’) 1 year imprisonment without hard labour; Count two (‘Riot’) a fine of D20,000 in default to serve 2years imprisonment; Count three (‘Incitement of Violence’) 3 years imprisonment without hard labour; Count four (Riotously interfering with vehicle’) a fine of D20,000 in default to serve 2years imprisonment; Count five (’Holding a procession without a
permit’) 3 years without hard labour; Count six (‘Disobeying an order to disperse’) 3 years imprisonment without hard labour and count seven (‘Conspiracy to commit Felony’) 3 years without hard labour.
However, it is not clear whether the sentences are to run concurrently or consecutively. He only stated that parties are reminded of their right to appeal against the judgment.
The accused persons did not do their plea in mitigation.
After the delivery of the verdict by the trial judge, the accused persons were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and they later sang the National Anthem together with their family members and sympathizers in the courtroom.