Testifying before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, the President of the Gambia Bar Association, Salieu Taal, said under Jammeh’s regime, the then Chief Justices failed to discharge duties when Senior lawyer Antouman Gaye was unlawfully arrested and detained at Mile2.
After joining the Bar, the witness told the Commission that his first test of Jammeh’s wrath was when the late Baba Jobe, the Majority Leader, who also ran the Youth Development Enterprise (YDE), owed his bank some money. “One day, Yahya Jammeh came on TV and said whatever belongs to Baba Jobe belongs to him.”
He said the bank later sued Baba Jobe and forfeited his properties at Cape Point and Kololi.
Barrister Taal said his bank received a letter urging it to distance itself from Baba Jobe’s forfeited properties as they belong to former President Yahya Jammeh. Agents of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), he said, later went to the bank and demanded that the rent obtained from the seized properties, and paid to the bank, be given to Yahya Jammeh in Euros. Salieu Taal said the bank complied.
The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) later arrested the Bank Manager and the Head of Finance “just to intimidate them.” According to Lawyer Taal, the bank manager left the Gambia since then.
Mr Taal told the Commission that he was terrified. He added that he was shocked when he heard that one of the Court Clerks was an NIA operative.
According to the witness, when he started Private Practice, he had different unpleasant encounters, especially in 2006, when he became a Bar Association Executive member under Amie Bensouda.
He recalled that one meeting addressed the detention of Mrs Mariama Jack Denton.
Mrs Denton was detained for 111 days while a Court ruling asked to release her unconditionally. He added that Justice Monagen, a Commonwealth Judge, flagged one of the Independent-minded judges at the time, discharged the current National Assembly Speaker.
The witness testified that neither the Attorney General nor the Assembly’s Speaker could do anything regarding Mariama Jack Denton’s detention. Notwithstanding, the Gambia Bar Association engaged them.
On whether Ms Denton was charged with concealment of treason, he responded yes, adding that the Jammeh regime blackmailed her into being a witness.
Barrister Taal described the former president as a bulldozer, and Mrs Denton was perceived as a UDP supporter. So “Jammeh wanted to silence her,” says Salieu Taal. He added that in 2005, lawyer Ousainou Darboe was arrested and charged for the alleged murder of an APRC supporter.
Yahya Jammeh’s aggressive behaviour with lawyers
The witness further informed the Commission that Justice Paul ordered that Senior Counsel Antouman Gaye be held for four days, but the Bar association was able to gain his freedom. “In March 2006, lawyer Gaye was picked up by heavily armed security personnel on instructions of the former President.”
Mr Gaye was taken to Mile2 without any court order and was held for 7 days without a court order, and this was connected to the 2006 Ndure Cham foiled coup d’etat.
In reaction to Mr Gaye’s unlawful arrest, the Bar Association wrote to the Chief Justice Bribery to resign and further went on to boycott the courts.
He alleged that the Executive under Yahya Jammeh did everything possible to divide them, while other lawyers were not in line with the Bar. However, the majority of them succeeded in boycotting Justice Paul Court.
He added that in August 2006, Yahya Jammeh blatantly refused to meet a delegation comprising the Speaker, her Deputy and members of the Bar Association to discuss a comprehensive report on the challenges faced by Gambian lawyers at the time.
The witness revealed to the Commission that the lawyers indicated no respect for the Rule of Law and Human Rights in their report. The report also stated that Gambian lawyers operated in a climate of fear of Executive Interference in the Judiciary and judicial excesses to please Jammeh.
“Yahya Jammeh portrayed Human Rights as a Western ideology and as opposed to African ideology, and presented himself as the savior and the Pan Africanist who believed in African Culture.”
Sal Taal told the TRRC, “We allowed him to own us, own the country and own the system.” Salieu Taal added that Executive Directives could not be above the law, and it is the Constitution that determines what is lawful.
During Jammeh’s era, the witness added that Jammeh disregarded the Constitution. It was just a book amended over 52 times to suit his interest, consolidate himself in power, and even use Prosecutors to pursue his interest.
Mr. Taal revealed the existence of a special crew of lawyers and NIA agents running the show in the Gambian Judiciary under Jammeh. He said the Chief Justice would at times advise clients what type of lawyers to hire.
In his concluding remarks, Taal disclosed that some of the Gambian lawyers were sitting on the fence while others were complicit. However, he said, Ousainou Darboe, Lamin S. Camara, Borry S. Touray, Neneh MC Cham, and Antouman Gaye fought very hard for justice to be served and they never relented.