Today is D-Day for Lasana Jobarteh

By Lamin Sanyang

Lasana JobartehMagistrate Isatou Janneh of the Bundung Magistrates’ Court would today, Thursday 19 June, deliver judgment in the case involving Mr. Lasana Jobarteh of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

The defendant (Jobarteh) was arraigned before Principal Magistrate Ibrahim Kijera of the Bundung Magistrates’ Court, charged with one count of criminal offence for ‘broadcasting without a licence,’ a charge he denied.

In an attempt to prove its case, the prosecution called two witnesses from the National Intelligence Agency and tendered two exhibits including a purported cautionary statement obtained from the defendant and an article downloaded from Freedom, a Gambian online newspaper.

The defence during cross examination tendered an exhibit, list of all radio stations in the country with broadcasting licences.

Magistrate Kijera, however, overruled the no-case submission made by the defense arguing that the accused person should be heard in order to do justice to the prosecution who has persistently presented the best of their case. He said there is no doubt the incident did happen and the only legal interpretational issue to consider is whether the action of the accused tantamount to broadcasting without license.

Principal Magistrate Kijera in overruling the ‘no case to answer’ submission highlighted both arguments submitted by Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, counsel for the defendant and Corporal Jarju, police prosecutor. He said he can only evaluate after hearing from the defendant. In light of this, he ordered the defendant to enter his defence.

The defendant in his defence vehemently denied broadcasting any message on any radio. He said he did not even speak at the rallies at Buffer Zone and Brikama on 14th and 15th December 2013. He said nobody needs a license to communicate information via Skype. He argued that the Skype is not a means which one can use to broadcast.

In the meantime, the defence lawyer strongly argued that the licensing authority which he said is the Ministry of Information and Communication is not the complainant in the trial. He said no officer of the said ministry or technician under the department of the ministry has been called to give evidence in the trial.

“Witnesses whose evidence is material in determining issues before the court should be called to give evidence. In the case where the material witnesses are not called, it would be fatal for the case of the prosecution,” Defense counsel Darboe submitted.

Lawyer Darboe further argued that the author of Exhibit B, purported article from Freedom online newspaper is not known to the court. He argued that the said article was not written by the defendant. He submitted that the second prosecution witness told the court that he did not know whether the content of the article is true. The person, he said, who wrote it is not available for cross examination.

“I urge the court to acquit and discharge the accused,” he submitted.

At this juncture, the case was adjourned for the defense to reply to the address filed by the prosecution and set for judgment. Before the next sitting, the case was assigned to a new magistrate, Isatou Janneh, to take over from Principal Magistrate Ebrahim Kijera who was hearing the matter from the very beginning of the trial. Magistrate Janneh set the date for judgment after hearing the matter for the first time.

It could be recall that Mr. Lasana Jobarteh was arrested and detained at the National Intelligence Agency [NIA] headquarters in Banjul and denied access to his family and friends for eight days. He was later escorted to the police headquarters in Banjul. Thereafter, he was transferred to the Bundung police station from where he was taken to the Bundung Magistrates’ Court. He was charged with broadcasting without a licence, contrary to the Information and Communication Act 2009.

The particulars of offence was that between 14 and 15 December 2013, while attending the opposition United Democratic Party [UDP] political rallies at Buffer Zone in the Kanifing Municipality and Brikama and diverse places, Jobarteh talked on Skype using an IPOD and gave information abroad without a broadcasting licence, and thereby committed an offence.

Magistrate Ibrahim Kijera of the Bundung Magistrates’ Court granted him court bail in the sum of D250,000 and ordered him to produce two Gambian sureties who shall deposit their ID cards, and one of them must deposit a title deed with the court’s registrar.