Sexual Violence: Fatoumatta Jawara Still Fears Her Torturer
After being unconscious for three days due to severe torture and sexual violation, Fatoumatta K. Jawara remains fearful of her torturer who allegedly prepared his men to rape her when she failed to cooperate during investigations into a political demonstration.
According to her narration, the trauma is beyond limits and it still lingers in her mind as she used to dream about the man, who she identified as Sheikh Omar Jeng, operations commander of the onetime most feared institution in the country– National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
Precisely on April 14th, 2016, Jawara was arrested at Westfield along with several others including Nogoi Njie, Fatou Camara, Lang Marong and Ebrima Solo Sandeng. They were accused by Yahya Jammeh’s regime of staging a protest calling for electoral reforms without a permit.
The police later handed them over to the NIA where they were allegedly tortured, leading to death of Solo Sandeng whilst in custody.
Their arrest followed the clamp down on the executive members of United Democratic Party (UDP), including the party leader, Ousainou Darboe two days later. They were then prosecuted and sentenced to three years in prison. However, they were released following the change of government in December 2016.
Testifying before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on Tuesday, Jawara indicated that the evidence the police used against them was made up. According to her, the security officers gave them the banners bearing ‘We Need Electoral Reform’ and ‘Jammeh Must Go’ messages and asked Nogoi Njie and Fatou Camara to hold it while their photos were being taken. The photos were used as evidence against them in court.
Following their arrest, she explained that they were initially detained at Mile II prisons and later taken to the NIA headquarters in Banjul. At NIA headquarters, she recalled being forced to disclose who else was a part of the protest and who were the financiers.
According to Jawara, her first maltreatment at NIA came when a man came from behind and kicked her on the waist flooring her. The man said they were not supposed to be treated nicely by being given chairs to sit on.
Jawara told the Commission that she denied any knowledge of their questions when she faced the inquiry panel. And this brought about more trouble for her.
“I was blindfolded and taken into the torture room. They took my scarf to strongly tied up my face to the point that I could hardly breathe. I was stretched on the table and they poured cold water on all parts of my body. They hit me repeatedly for an extended period with something that looked like a baton. I couldn’t see them, but they could be about twenty people hitting me. They tortured me up to their satisfaction and took me out of the torture room to face the panel.”
She faced the same questions at the panel once more and was specifically asked about the involvement of the party leader, but she denied knowledge of his involvement. After the interrogation before the panel, she remembered being blindfolded again and taken to the torture room.
“Once I was taken out of the panel room, they tied my face again. This time around, I thought they were going to kill me because the torture was so terrible. When they took me into the torture room, I recognized the voice of Sheikh Omar Jeng, Operations Commander at NIA.”
When she was returned to the torture room for the second time, she said Sheikh Omar mocked her for being an executive member of UDP, yet she could not know who the main people supporting their protest were.
“He [Sheikh Omar] told me if you don’t talk, I will ask all these men here to rape you. I told him that I have never committed adultery. That, I was married as a virgin and I have been ever fateful. They all started laughing. That was the time I fell down again because I could not stand due to intense pain and injuries – I could not do anything. When I regained consciousness, they started beating me for a short period. I want to make this clear that I was never aware if I got raped.”
She told the Commission that she was later dragged into another room where she found her colleague, Fatou Camara and they later brought Nogoi Njie.
In that room, she went unconscious again, according to her testimony. “I was not aware of anything and Nogoi told me when I came to at the hospital that I did not open my eyes for three days. I was unconscious.”
She recalled how Sheikh Omar Jeng has been tormenting her, to an extent that she would be having dreams of her name being called by Sheikh Omar.
“The words he used on me means I will never forget about him. It still lingers in my mind. This is why when he met us at the hospital, the moment he spoke, I recognized his voice [despite never seeing him before due to her face being blindfolded]. I am afraid of him,” Jawara emphasized.
“I sustained a lot of injuries on my body including my back, my buttocks and on my thighs, they’re all injured. These injuries are still hurting me. Sometimes when the pain starts, I do not sleep at night. Few months ago, I was admitted at the hospital in Banjul on two occasions.”
As a consequence of the alleged tortures she encountered Fatoumatta said, “I realized that I was bleeding externally and I was also urinating blood. This continued happening to me at that hospital for several months until I was taken to Mile II”.
Fatoumatta Jawara, Fatou Camara, Nogoi Njie, Lang Marong and several others were later taken to Janjanbureh Prison for eight months while attending trial at Mansa Konko High Court in the Lower River Region. They were sentenced to three years imprisonment and were pardoned by President Adama Barrow in December 2016 following the defeat of Yahya Jammeh.