A military court martial headed by army Colonel Salifu Bojang has sentenced seven soldiers and officers of The Gambia Armed Forces into nine years in prison.
Captain Yahya Beray Jammeh, a former Aide De Camp to the former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, Lieutenant Abdoulie Jarju, Sergeant Babucarr Sanneh, Sergeant Malick Bojang, Corporal Abba Badjie, and Private Memba Camara were all jailed to nine years in prison.
One of the accused persons Private Alieu Sanneh was slammed with a three-year jail term. The other four accused soldiers: Corporal Ebrima Jarju, Lance Corporal Sambujang Bojang, Corporal Lamin Gibba and Corporal Sulayman Sanyang were acquitted and discharged due to lack of evidence.
The trial had lasted for close to two years. The prosecution says the accused persons had conspired to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Barrow. They were arrested back in 2017. They have since been detained without bail.
The spokesman of The Gambia Armed Forces Major Lamin K Sanyang says the court verdict goes to confirm the independence and effectiveness of the country’s legal system. Sanyang also says the trial was not only free and fair, but transparent as well.
“ This has been a test of our legal system; in that the proceedings has been undertaken through a very fair and transparent process; in that the media was invited to cover the process; from the start up to the finish and this is a far cry from what we used to have in the past,” he says.
The ringleader of the abortive coup is army Captain Yahya Beray Jammeh. Jammeh is a former Aide De Camp to his namesake, the former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh. He and his co accused persons have been accused of using the social media app—WhatsApp to plot to topple the Barrow government.
Jammeh and his co convicts had planned to arrest Gambia’s Chief of Defense Staff Masaneh Kinteh, cabinet ministers and battalion commanders, should the coup had succeeded. But they were busted prior to its execution.
Army spokesman Sanyang has called on the military to remain apolitical. He says the army has no business in meddling into issues relating to governance. He added that the army’s role is to defend and protect the territorial integrity of the nation and not to involve in coups. He also says the army helps the nation during emergency rescue situations among others.
“The military has no role in governance so to speak more so, talking about trying to overthrow a civilian; our democratically elected government; so that is not a business that the military is trained for and that we will ensure that our military men; our personnel shy away from any thoughts about or having anything to do with governance,” Major Sanyang said.
According to Sanyang, The Gambian Armed Forces under the leadership of CDS Masaneh Kinteh, had spearheaded a series of institutional reforms since the change of government back in 2016. He says the army is on a right footing.
Lamin Tamba, an APRC supporter had a different view. “The PRO would say it was a free and fair trial in his perverted view; whatever lenses he took to look at this matter; he looked at it from a wrong angle. It is not free and fair; you can’t torture people and admits to torture; in fact the army said they were disappointed that there was torture of one of the witnesses; so, you cannot torture people and forced them to write statements and call that a free and fair process; never; it doesn’t happen in any part of the world.”
The soldier that Tamba said was allegedly tortured was Lance Corporal Sambujang Bojang. Bojang had claimed that he was allegedly tortured while being interrogated by the personnel of the defunct National Intelligence Agency—now renamed as the State Intelligence Services (SIS).
“For the court martial, which is by the way an extension of the high court, but just a military version of it; for them to find these officers of guilty of plotting to overthrow the government based on witness statement alone, when it was actually an allegation that they wanted to throw the government based on their conversations in a WhatsApp chat group; it is dangerous; it is setting a very dangerous precedent in what Gambians are terming as a new democracy; a new dispensation in our country,” Tamba remarked.
Tamba is of the view that the conviction of these soldiers signals a bleak future for Gambia’s social media users. He warns that Gambian social media users should be wary of their privacies online given what he called the regime’s move to probe into the social media activities of the accused soldiers.
“Civil liberties are being tried; private conversations or communications are being tried; number two our government, or the high court, or the court martial, which has the jurisdiction on this case is showing us that they can go through an entire legal process and this lasted for over year by the way; the trial; they can go through that and not disclose any thing,” Tamba remarked.
President Barrow came to power in December of 2016. He defeated Gambia’s longtime dictator Yahya Jammeh, in an election, which was marred by a month-long political impasse.
The President of the court martial Colonel Salifu Bojang told a packed courtroom that the verdict that jailed the accused soldiers and officers was a unanimous one. He also said the court had put into consideration for the time already served by the convicts in its verdict.