TRRC Testimony: Mother Detached from Breastfeeding Child for Detention over Political Affiliation
The former ruling People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) strong woman who later became the Chairwoman of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Tata Camara-Ceesay, told the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that she was heavily victimized in different ways by the APRC regime including her forceful separation from her one-year old child when she was being taken into custody by NIA operatives because of her choice to join the UDP and not APRC.
She recalled on 12 July, 2000 when one of her children came to her in the rice field to inform her of a police man who was waiting for her at home. She names Kemo, being the name of the policeman who came to escort her to the Jangjangbureh police station. According to Ceesay, the police inspector in charge of the Jangjangbureh police station, Kulu Gibba, took her to the office of the Commissioner of McCarthy Island Division, (now Central River Region) Major Bojang.
“Major Bojang told me that my name is found on almost every paper in Commissioner’s office and that shows that I was a good and hardworking woman during the time of President Jawara administration. And he enquired from me why I couldn’t continue doing the same with APRC government. I told him that Jammeh said he doesn’t like Jawara and all those Jawara worked with. And I had worked with Jawara for over 30 years. So where would I see myself. UDP approached me to be their Chairwoman and I had to accept it. He told me whether I can join APRC. I responded to him that I do not vomit and lip it back. He then drove me back to my house because a lot of people getting attracted to the ground.”
Though initially allowed to return home, the next visit from the police proved to be anything but peaceful, according to Tata. She testifies that after being made to sit in the police station for an hour whilst breastfeeding her one-year old child, Cessay saw NIA operatives arriving in a vehicle and entering Gibba’s office. As she listened to their conversation, she could hear disagreement among them as to whether she should be taken to custody while breastfeeding.
“At that time Omar Mambouray was the NIA officer in Jangjangbureh who sent my name to their main office in Banjul. He went round telling people to come and have their last sight on me because I will not be returned again. Omar was the one saying if I am not arrested, the UDP would control Jangjangbureh. The NIA brought me from Jangjangbureh to Banjul.”
Tata accused Omar Mambouray and Kulu Gibba of forcefully grabbing her child from her arms and sitting him on the floor. While the baby was left in the village, Tata was brought to NIA headquarters in Banjul, arriving around 3am.
“I was put in a cell where there is no toilet near it. Sometimes I nearly pee on myself. At some point urine would release on my wrapper and I had to take water to spread it on my legs and wrapper because I use the same cloth to pray.”
Not being able to breastfeed her child for days, Tata started experiencing breast engorgement causing her immense pain.
“While I was in cell, I was vomiting. I knocked the door heavily screaming that I am dying. They took me to a military health facility near the State House. They brought a very big injection to inject me, but I refused because I observed that the injection was usually administered to donkeys. They then brought a very dark tablet and I refused to take that too. There was no bed. There were mosquitoes and bed bugs that were biting me. I used to sit down and when I am tired I untie my wrapper and spread on the floor and lie down. I was held for 23 days.”
On the 24th day, Ceesay was released from NIA detention after which she got treatment from Dr. Ceesay’s clinic in Kololi before the UDP’s party leader would facilitate her journey back home. While in detention, she was accused of insulting APRC official, but she challenged them to play the recordings. However, one Baba who she described as the head of NIA at the time told her that there was no recording of that and she was just brought there to be convinced to join the APRC. She also alleges that officers detained her children for three days because her affiliation.
Upon her return to Jangjangbureh, she had to wean the child.
“I had to wean him upon my return because it wouldn’t be good for his health. I continued buying supplements like milk to feed him. This caused a lot of health implications to him leading to his epilepsy. I have seen all kinds of difficulties inflicted on me. They were coming every time to arrest and detain me. Taking me away from my children and destroying my properties is enough of an ordeal.”
According to Tata, she continued to face attacks after her release. Her compound fences were destroyed numerous times, and her children who were working in government service were victimized and had their services terminated. Ceesay states that although Kulu Gibba has passed away, she remains fearful of Omar who is still alive and could do anything to her.