By Mustapha Jallow
The unlawful incommunicado detention without trial and disappearance without trace still continue unabated in The Gambia as many are held without access or charge and others are also still missing after their abduction.
Such impunity prevails in gross violation of human rights as Gambians and non Gambians from all walks of life have spent several days, months or years in detention incommunicado without trial at different locations such as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Mile Two Prison and the Janjangbureh Prison in the Central River Region (CRR).
This goes on in contravention of section 19 of the 1997 Constitution of the Second Republic which states that “Any person who is arrested or detained… who is not released, shall be brought without undue delay before a court of law and, in any event, within 72 hours.’’
The persons listed below have either been arrested or disappeared and there is still no report that the state has charged them to a court. Furthermore, on 21 March the high court ordered the release of Imam Ousman Sawaneh, who was detained beyond 72 hours without being taken before a court of law; but he is yet to be released 21 days after the order was made.
This column features persons who have been unlawfully detained or disappeared every quarter when the list (which is by no means exhaustive) is updated.
From the remarks of the families of the detainees it is apparent that the absence of their are husbands, fathers, mothers, uncles, sons and so on has really caused untold psychological, physical and economic suffering to those they left behind. Family members often say that the arrestors and abductors are men in plain clothes, including members of the NIA and other sister security outfits across the country.
IN DETENTION FOR 176 DAYS: The Imam of Kanifing South, ALHAGI OUSMAN SAWANEH, who is yet to be released in spite of a court order is held incommunicado for 176 days at the remote Janjangbureh Prison in the Central River Region (CRR) without any access to his family members, a family source said.
According to family members, he was picked up by unidentified men in civilian clothes around 10 am on Sunday, 18 October, 2015, while leading a team of volunteers to clear the grass in the Kanifing South Cemetery. His whereabouts were not initially known to the family but he was later traced to the NIA headquarters in Banjul. He was later transferred from the NIA to CRR Prison on the 27th October, 2015.
According to family sources Imam Sawaneh has still not returned home contrary to their hope that he would be released when the court ordered the state to do so. Upon the filing of a writ of habeas corpus by the Imam’s family, the high court at Banjul, Justice Basiru Mahoney presiding, ordered for the Imam’s release on Monday, 21 March, 2016, either conditionally or unconditionally. Family members say they do not know why he is still held in spite of the court order for his release. They have expressed their concerns over the detention of their loved one and are urging the authorities to release him.
IN DETENTION FOR 179 DAYS: OUSMAN JAMMEH, a former Deputy Minister of Agriculture, who was removed from his post on Thursday evening, 15 October, 2015, was also arrested on the same day and held at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) headquarters in Banjul, where he had been held incommunicado for 91 days before being transferred to Mile Two Prison. He is still held incommunicado at Mile II prison and his detention now spans 179 days without access to his entire family or being taken to a court of law.
According to a source, Mr Jammeh had left his home on Thursday 15 October, to go and attend a World Food Day Celebration in Basse. The source added that while on his way he received a phone call from unidentified men who asked him to cancel his trip and return. While returning Mr Jammeh was immediately picked up by men in plain clothes.
Family members say when they were informed about the arrest of their loved one they began to search for him and traced him to the NIA office in Banjul. They added that when they visited the NIA on Saturday 17 October 2015 with a bowl of food, clothes and other needs, they were told by agents they met at the gate that food and other items would not be allowed in and they were also not allowed access to him.
Expressing their concern over the denial of access to him and the refusal to even receive his clothes, a distraught family member said, “We do not know what our loved one has done to warrant his detention and denial of access. His children keep asking for him and we cannot tell them that their dad is arrested. We told them that he has travelled and is yet to come.”
IN DETENTION FOR 179 DAYS: The Imam of a mosque in Jabang Borehole, SHEIKH OMAR COLLEY, has been held incommunicado for 179 days without access to his family members. He was reported missing for 145 days but family members say that they have finally traced their loved one to the Janjangbureh Prison in the Central River Region (CRR).
The family of Imam Colley say upon his arrest he was detained incommunicado at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) headquarters in Banjul for 48 days and that while they were making efforts to access him they received information that the Imam had been transferred from the NIA to Janjangbureh Prison in the Central River Region (CRR). ‘‘We’re still searching for our brother because we are worried and concerned about his sudden disappearance. We went to the NIA and we were told that he is not in their custody anymore; then we later got information that he had been moved to CRR prison but they also told us he was not in their custody,’’ family source said.
Family members are still pleading with the authorities to come to their aid and help them find their loved. ‘‘Our brother’s present situation is a real cause for concern as we do not know where and how he is being held. His two wives and numerous children are seriously worried about his present condition and state of health,” the source lamented.
Earlier reports indicate that Imam Colley was transferred from Yundum Police Station to the National NIA headquarters in Banjul less than a day after he presented himself there following instructions from a distant caller in Bansang.
The brothers of the detainee explained that on Thursday 15 October, 2015, while Imam Colley was at home he received a telephone call from someone, who claimed to be calling from Bansang Police Station and asked him to report to Old Yundum police station. He said this unknown caller told Imam Colley to call him with his mobile phone when he reaches the station so that he (the caller) could talk to the station officer (SO). He said this was around the time when his brother was about to go to the mosque to perform his ‘Maghrib’ (twilight) prayers.
The source further explained that they accompanied Mr. Colley to the station and while they were there, their brother called the said caller from Bansang to talk to the police they met there and who later asked him to hand over all his personal belongings e.g. mobile phone, wrist watch, rosary beads, etc., and enter the cell. He said the brother then complied with this police order.
A close family source said when they returned to the station around 7am the next day on Friday, they were told by the police officers they met there that their brother was no longer in their custody. He said the brother was later traced at the NIA headquarters in Banjul but they were denied access to him while he was held at the NIA before his current detention at CRR prison.
IN DETENTION FOR 161 DAYS: IMAM CHERNO GASSAMA of Dasilami in Lower Fulladou West District, Central River Region (CRR) is also held incommunicado at the Janjanbureh prison in CRR without release or charge.
According to reports Imam Gassama was arrested on Monday, 2 November 2015, at his residence by an operative of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) who was accompanied by a police officer in uniform from Brikamaba police station.
An eye witness disclosed that, when the Imam arrived at the police station, he was detained briefly before being finally taken to Janjanbureh Prison on the same day. “We are not told about the reason for his arrest and long detention without charge or court appearance,” added the source.
A member of his mosque congregation said they are appealing to the authorities to release the Imam so as to enable him to lead prayers in the current reconstruction works of their mosque.
The Imam’s family also joined in the appeal for the release of their loved one so that he could reunite with his family after this long period of detention.
IN DETENTION FOR 586 DAYS: A former Human Resource Director of the state telecommunication company, Gamtel/Gamcel, MR. SEEDY JAITEH, has also been held incommunicado at the maximum security Wing in Mile Two Prison for 586 days without access to his family or trial, a family source disclosed.
The family source said that in March 2016 they visited the said prison to get the authorities to allow them access to their loved one but the authorities turned down their request, which has led them to have sleepless nights and worries over his continued detention.
However, the family are making efforts to secure his release and are calling on the government to free their loved one.
‘‘Since he was transferred to Mile Two Prison on 3 September 2014, we were denied access to our loved one and we are not aware of any charge preferred against him,’’ a family source lamented.
The source added that on several occasions attempts have been made to have access to him at the prison but without success. The family was even expecting his release when the president’s grant of amnesty was announced leading to the release of some detainees and convicted prisoners but to their disappointment he was not released.
Mr. Jaiteh, according to reports, was picked up at his home in Manjai Kunda, by men in plain clothes on 27 August 2014 and then whisked away in a numberless vehicle with tinted glasses. His family went searching for him at different detention centres such as the NIA, Police Headquarters, NDEA Holgam centre at Kanifing South and other nearby police stations but in vain. He was finally traced at the NIA in Banjul where the family members were initially allowed to be taking food to him but this lasted for only few days.
DISAPPEARED FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS NOW: LIEUTENANT EBOU LOWE, a former Military personnel of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), has gone missing from the public view and he had never been seen or heard from since 2006, a close relative revealed.
According to family sources of the ex-military officer, they are still searching for their beloved brother and would like the authorities to do a proper investigation into his whereabouts. He added that they have been visiting the prison and following the pronouncement of a grant of amnesty by the president, which led to the release of some convicted prisoners and detainees, they went to Mile Two prison on the 24 July 2015, in anticipation that he would be among them but were disappointed not to see his him.
Reports indicated that Lt. Lowe was among the military officers who were arrested in the wake of the 21 March 2006 attempted coup. It was later announced by the state media on 4th April 2006 that Bai Lowe had escaped with four other security officers while being transferred to Janjangbureh prison in the hinterland but up to date no one has seen or heard of him.
DISAPPEARED FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS NOW: Chief Ebrima Manneh, a Former State House Senior Reporter and Crime Watch Columnist of the Daily Observer Newspaper, was also arrested by security agents at his workplace in Bakau on 7 July 2006. Reports indicated that after his abduction, he was taken to different detention centres in country. His final disappearance occurred immediately after the African Union (AU) Summit hosted by The Gambia in 2006.
The father of Chief Manneh, who cries while explaining the situation of his son, said that he would not rest searching or requesting from the government about his missing son until he sees him. He added that he will try all best to mobilise religious leaders to go with him to President Jammeh at his residence in Kanilai to enquire from him about his son, Chief Manneh.
Chief Manneh’s aging father has been making frantic efforts in search of his son since inception. He said he first visited all the known security detention centres around the country without any trace of his son and had also approached personalities such as the then NIA Director General, Mr Harry Sambou; the then IGP, Mr. Ousman Sonko; the then State House Imam, Fatty and the Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy to help in the efforts to trace Chief Manneh, but to no avail. The family is calling on the state to mount an investigation into the disappearance of their loved one, because they were very much traumatised about the disappearance.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) based in Accra, Ghana, filed a suit against the Gambia government at the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, Nigeria on 19 June 2007. The court held several proceedings but since the commencement of proceedings on 16 July 2016, the Government of The Gambia repeatedly failed to appear before the ECOWAS Court after being served with several summons. While the plaintiffs presented two witnesses from the Gambia who testified, the state failed to secure the appearance of senior Police and Military officers who were subpoenaed to testify.
On 5 June 2008, the ECOWAS Court entered judgment in favour of the missing journalist and ordered the Gambian government to release and compensate him an amount of US 100,000 Dollars but still now nothing has been done.
The position of the Gambia Government has been conflicting. The Gambia government never made any public comment about the missing Journalist until February 2009 when the matter of Chief Manneh was raised in Parliament by the then Minority leader Momodou Sanneh. The then Justice Minister Mrs. Marie Saine Firdaus stated that Chief Manneh has never been in state custody and described MFWA’s move as premature without exhausting the local Gambian courts before going to the ECOWAS level.
However, her successor Mr. Edward Gomez, told Daily News, that Chief Manneh was still alive but failed to give any supportive evidence about his claims. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Yankuba Sonko at the time also told a local newspapers that the missing journalist is residing in the United States of America, but he also failed to give provide any evidence.
The Solicitor General, in 2008 told Amnesty International Researchers that the government believed Chief Manneh was abducted as it has been claimed, though nobody from the government had been involved.
DISAPPEARED FOR MORE THAN 2 YEARS NOW: Two Gambian–US citizens, ALHAGIE MAMUT CEESAY and EBOU JOBE, went missing on Saturday, 22 June 2013 in Brusubi while on holiday in The Gambia. The disturbed family members of the two US citizens are dissatisfied with the lack of progress as they both locally and Internationally they are yet to trace their whereabouts or to secure their release.
The two were abducted from the same apartment at Brusubi on the same day. Family sources noted that the duo came to The Gambia with the intention of investing in a cashew exporting business.
According to the release issued by the Ceesay family, Alhagie and Ebou went to the Gambia to invest and contribute to The Gambian economy. The two had a lease agreement for the office space they rented while in The Gambia.
Mr. Ceesay is said to have completed his bachelor’s degree at University of Washington (Seattle) and later worked for Chevron Texaco for 11 years as an Infrastructure systems analyst. He recently obtained his MBA in 2013. He is married and has two children.
As for Mr. Jobe, he is said to have graduated from the University of Washington and worked at Wal-Mart as an Operations Manager. He is also married and has three children.
A family source has indicated that the police have been informed and are fully aware of the disappearance of the duo but are yet to come up with any findings regarding their whereabouts.
The US government has been pursuing the matter with the Gambia Government and did raise the matter at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
A former US Charge d’Affaire said at a press conference in 2014 that, “As far as I know, they were picked up and disappeared and we have asked the Gambia Government to investigate.”
He disclosed that they have even offered the services of the FBI to help in locating these two US citizens and added that they will leave no stone unturned in searching for their nationals.
DISAPPEARED FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS NOW: A native of Jarra who was residing in Bonto village in Kombo East of the West Coast Region (WCR) and a former employee of the Christian Children Fund, (now Child Fund The Gambia), MR. LAMIN KANYI (ALIAS KANYIBA KANYI), was abducted in the Gambia on 18th September 2006 by men in plain clothes believed to be security agents, including a police officer in uniform in the presence of his family. Since then, his whereabouts remain unknown to his family.
According to witnesses, Kanyiba was abducted around 9:00pm by three men who demanded to see him in camera; that Kanyiba then asked them to identify themselves and their mission which they refused to disclose. “The said men in plain clothes then called a taxi driver who was some metres away from the scene. Within a twinkle of an eye, the taxi driver arrived, Kanyiba was forcefully pushed into the taxi and then whisked away in full view of his family, leaving the wife and family in tears,” said a family member.
According to a source shortly after Kanyiba was whisked away, his younger brother was also arrested and detained overnight at the Serious Crime Unit (SCU) at the Police headquarters in Banjul but was later released. The family say that they have been traumatized and are seriously affected by the abduction and disappearance of their loved one since 2006.
It was also revealed that at the time of Kanyiba’s forced disappearance, his wife was pregnant and later delivered a baby girl who is now 10 years old and attending school.
Family members in their efforts are still calling on the government to aid them in locating and securing the release of their loved one.
It was further disclosed that Kanyiba Kanyi’s father died shortly after a visit to Kanilai to request for an audience with President Jammeh, audience he was unable to obtain.
His family members also filed a writ of “Habeas Corpus’ at the high court but he was not produced before the court neither was he released contrary to the court order.
DISAPPEARED FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS NOW – Mr. Lamin Tunkara, a native of Kinteh-Kunda Marong Kunda in the Central Baddibu District of the North Bank Region (NBR), was arrested on 21st July, 2005, by a combined team, comprising the CID (police), NIA agents and plain clothes officers, behind Albert Market in Banjul. He is still missing since his arrest in 2005.
The family said his house in Tallinding was ransacked by the said security agents who confiscated foreign denominations – CFA, US Dollars and Euros – and Dalasi as well.
The family also said Mr. Tunkara was detained at the Police headquarters in Banjul for few days and later at the Kairaba Police Station. His family said while in detention, he was accused of being an agent facilitating the journey of nationals through the “back way” to Spain. He was last seen at Kairaba Police Station and up till now family members have no clue of his whereabouts.
DISAPPEARED FOR 10 YEARS: Three good close friends, ALHAGIE MOMODOU LAMIN NYASSI, ex-Chief of Foni Kansala District, NDONGO MBOOB and ALHAGIE BUBA SANYANG, all natives of Bwiam in the West Coast Region, have gone missing and never returned home since their arrest by men in plain clothes in 2006.
A family source says that to their surprise when amnesty was granted and a lot of prisoners were released their loved one was not among those released; they still have no information about him, they do not know whether he is still alive or not, or if he is arrested.
According to sources, the former Chief of Foni Kansala was arrested by plain clothes agents on Tuesday evening, 4 April, 2006, whilst conveying his friend, Ndongo Mboob, who visited his house.
They also explained that they have visited all security detention centres in The Gambia, including Mile II Central Prisons, Janjangbureh Prison, NIA detention centre in Banjul and the Police headquarters, but that all these efforts proved to be in vain.
The relatives of the disappeared persons told this reporter that they are traumatized and desperate to see their loved ones.
Alhagie Buba Sanyang (alias Bubai), was also picked up from his house on the same day by three NIA operatives who informed him that he was wanted by someone in higher authority. The family said Bubai had just finished performing the ‘Maghrib’ prayer when the men came for him. They said Bubai at that juncture handed over his mobile phones to his wife, and then the men whisked him away. The family added that up to date they have not seen or heard from him.
DISAPPEARED FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS NOW: JASARJA KUJABI, a native of Dobong village, in the Foni Kansala District, went missing since Wednesday, 27 July, 2005, after his house was ransacked by men claiming to be NIA agents who came in a numberless Nissan jeep with tinted glasses.
Family sources told Foroyaa that they have not seen or heard from him since his disappearance in 2005 and that they are still wondering if their loved one is alive. ‘‘Since he was arrested by the agents, his absence is really disturbing us a lot because we’re facing a serious financial crisis and he was the only financial support of his young family,’’ a family source added.
According to the family, Mr Kujabi was picked up from his farm and then taken to his house for him to change his clothes. The source said he told his family that he was going to answer but that they should not be bothered and that he was soon whisked away. His situation still remains unknown to his entire family.
DISAPPEARED FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS NOW – HARUNA JAMMEH, a native of Kanilai, also went missing in the same evening, as he boarded the same vehicle that came for the arrest of Jisarja. Since then these two are nowhere to be seen or heard of up to date.
DISAPPEARED FOR MORE THAN 11 YEARS NOW: MRS MASIREH JAMMEH, a former employee at the State House in Banjul and also a native of Kanilai, has been missing since July 15 2005. The family said since then they have not seen or heard from her and do not also know where she is being held.