Imam Baba Leigh Says He Will Only Forgive His Torturers When They Truly Repent
The imam of Kanifing, Baba Leigh said he can only forgive his perpetrators if they truly repent and regret their actions against him after they subjected him to a nine-day continuous torture in December 2012 at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) headquarters in Banjul.
He was later put incommunicado at Mile 2 prisons for more than five months before he was set up before the state broadcaster to public blame himself, and not Jammeh for his detention.
Leigh, now serving as a commissioner at the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) was testifying before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on Wednesday.
As far as he is concerned, the apologies he saw on TV screen at TRRC are not enough for him to consider.
“I am really ready to forgive, but for somebody who asked for repentance,” he said.
At this point, the lead counsel, Essa Faal interjected, stating that Omar Jallow alias Oya, a member of jungulars who confessed to have tortured him, had repented and sought for forgiveness.
But Leigh denied. “OYA did not seek forgiveness. If coming here and saying I forgive is what you thought of forgiveness it’s not,” he said.
He stated that victims including him are not happy anytime they come face to face with their perpetrators who are still going about their businesses.
“The people who did all these things are still handling big positions here and we are meeting with them. We sometimes meet with them in the airplanes. What went wrong in this country is too much. They continued to provoke the victims,” he told the TRRC.
However, he assured that he is willing to take part in reconciliation with perpetrators and he could forgive if they take the right direction.
“If the people who victimised me take the right direction as well as the government that offended me, and the government that inherited, since the government is a continuity, take the route as Quran states, we will forgive because we are religious leaders,” he assured.
Meanwhile, recounting his ordeals, Leigh recalled the night of 2 December 2012 when he arrived home only to meet with two NIA operatives who arrested him.
He was taken to the NIA headquarters in Banjul where he was allegedly subjected late-long-nights torture by the ninja-looking torture squad.
As he was initially put in a cell, he remembered being taken out of his cell around 1 am to a very dark room where he was greeted by a heavy slap from behind – as he entered.
“Somebody came and slapped me from behind until his fingers touched my eyes. When he slapped me, he told me you are calling yourself an imam. I responded by telling him that I am not calling myself Imam, but I am imam. He told me here it’s Oga before God.
“They started beating me, stripped me up naked like how I was born. There was no part of my body they didn’t beat. They kicked me while some will snuff out their cigarettes. They would relax a bit and then restart the beating. They would pour cold water on my body,” he narrated.
According to him, he sustained injuries on his body for months without medication while under detention. He said some of the laceration marks could still be visible on his body.
“They started asking me why I hate Yahya Jammeh. I responded with a question; did I hate him? He told me you want to tell me you are more educated than Abdoulie Fatty and Imam Muhammad Lamin Touray. Why are you the only one talking? These are the types of questions they asked. They used sticks and chains to beat me up,” he told the commission.
“They came back around 1am again the following day and did the same thing. You can’t even know how long those beating sessions last. They would beat you until you collapsed. They will go and drink alcohol and come back. Sometimes they will take 2 to 3 sessions in a night.”
At some point of the questioning, he recalled being bombarded with questions regarding his source of income, cars while it was put to him that he was financed by the American embassy.
“These are the types of questions they asked. It [the beating] was systematic and it went on up to the sixth day. They were doing the same thing. The sixth day, they told me if you want to leave, you must mention some names as people who implicated you in doing you resulting to this trouble”
The names they listed for him to confirm were one Kebba Touray, Omar Amadou Jallow (OJ), Abdourahman Barry and the American embassy. According to him, he always refused to accept.
He testified that the beating continued up consecutively up to the ninth day when he was released and rearrested before leaving Banjul. He conceded that the release could have been their strategy to say that he was released and not in their custody again, which the government eventually claimed later.
He recalled being subjected to further tortures such as masking him with a plastic bag, curtailing his breathing as they forced him to talk but he continued to refuse.
“With that plastic bag, they can take you anywhere and you cannot see,” he said.
After a long drive, he recalled being seated and the plastic bag was removed when he was again subjected to interrogation but he refused. He said they told him the place they took him was Babadinka and that’s where he was going to die if he fails to talk.
Leigh said after 5 months, he was released from Mile 2 where he was totally denied family and legal visits.
He recalled being taken to a staged platform where Njogu L. Bah, former presidential affairs minister received him along with Supreme Islamic Council leaders such as Imam Abdoulie Fatty and Imam Muhammad Lamin Touray, Banjul Muslim elders and one Alieu Mboge. He said he was asked to praise and thank Jammeh for his humanitarian gesture for releasing him before the State television.