Prison Officers’ Trial: Torture Allegations Trigger Trial within Trial

By Mamadou Dem

The allegations of torture at the time of obtaining a cautionary statement from Prison officer Ebrima B Njie yesterday prompted Principal Magistrate Isatou Janneh – Njie to order for a ‘voire dire’ (trial within trial) to justify as to whether the said statement was made either voluntarily or under duress.

Prior to the order, attorney for Mr. Njie and Edrisa Manga, Patrick Gomez objected to the admissibility of a cautionary statement made by the first accused (Njie). He argued that the document sought to be tendered by the state wasn’t obtained voluntarily, alleging that his client was forced to sign the statement. He added that the document sought to be tendered does not bear a letter of the Gambia Police Force (GPF) nor does it have its stamp, indicating that it was not from proper custody. He added that they have not been told about an independent witness to verify whether it was done in the presence of the independent witness. He therefore sought for the rejection of the document sought to be tendered.

Countering the defence lawyer’s submission, state Counsel Babucarr Jaiteh argued that the defence lawyer’s submission wasn’t based on any law; adding that the accused persons before the court are charged with an offence and the statement was signed, endorsed by the accused after interpreting to him what was put on paper in the presence of an independent witness. He described the lack of a letterhead on the document as just mere technicality. He urged the court to overrule the objection as the arguments lack merit and is not based on law.

Replying on points of law, attorney for the accused persons argued that the Judges’ rules were not followed at the time of obtaining the statement which states that “Every person has the right to write his/her statement.”

At this point, the trial Magistrate ordered for a trial within a trial so as to enable the court to know issues surrounding the cautionary statement sought to be tendered by the state.

Under voire dire, Sergeant Ebrima Bah who is sixth prosecution witness (PW6) in the main trial testified as PW1 in the trial within trial and told the court that he does not know how long the accused persons were in custody prior to obtaining the cautionary statement. He denied the allegation that the accused persons were detained several times before obtaining their statements. He also denied that he wrote the statement and forced him to sign it. He further said, “I’m not aware of the accused persons being beaten,” added the witness.

At this juncture, the matter was adjourned till today for PW2 to testify in the voire dire.

The duo is standing trial on charge of ‘aiding and abetting’ Abdoulie Ceesay, former Managing Director of Taranga Fm Radio. However, they pleaded not guilty as charged and were granted bail but both accused persons are held at Mile II Prison as they couldn’t fulfill the bail condition levied on them.