By Yankuba Jallow
Sheikh Omar Jeng, a former Director of Operations at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) will open his defence on Monday, 14th October before the High Court in the ongoing criminal trial of former intelligence chiefs.
Jeng was charged together with 8 others for the murder of Ebrima Solo Sandeng of the United Democratic Party (UDP) sometime in April 2016. When the charges were read, he denied all of them as alleged.
Witnesses’ testimonies alleged that Sandeng along with Nogoi Njie, Fatou Camara, Fatoumata Jawara, Kafu Bayo, Modou Ngum and Ebrima Jabang was taken to the NIA and tortured severely by people they couldn’t recognize, though they all said they were tortured within the premises of the NIA. According to the testimonies of Nogoi Njie and others, they all said Solo Sandeng was tortured at the NIA and kept at the infamous ‘Bambadinka’ cell. Sandeng and others were arrested in April 2016 when they took to the streets protesting against the Jammeh regime.
Sir Jeng, together with 8 others, is facing charges on 25 counts including murder, conspiracy to murder and torture, among others. The case began two years ago and it is now at defence stage. The Prosecution has called over 30 witnesses to prove their case including forensic experts, NIA agents, alleged victims who were arrested together with Solo Sandeng, police officers among others.
The accused persons in the trial are Yankuba Badjie, an ex-director of the NIA, Sheikh Omar Jeng alias Sir Jeng, an ex-director of operations at the NIA, Baboucar Sallah, Haruna Suso, Tamba Masireh, Lamin Darboe, and Lamin Lang Sanyang. The 2nd accused person Louise Gomez, an ex-deputy director of NIA, died under the custody of the State, during the course of the trial. However, Yusupha Jammeh, the 6th accused person was discharged by the Court, upon the State’s application.
Jeng and the other accused persons all denied culpability as they pleaded not guilty to all the 25 criminal charges. Yankuba Badjie was supposed to open his defence yesterday, but his lawyer C.E. Mene told the court that he is not ready to open his defence. He said this is because he has a pending appeal before the Gambia Court of Appeal against Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara’s decision that barred them from opening their ‘no case submission’. He added that he has also appealed against her decision rejecting their application to call 5 listed prosecution witnesses for cross-examination.
“In the circumstance, my lady, these two appeals are paramount to the 1st accused person (Yankuba Badjie) and opening a defence will be prejudicial to the appeals,” Mene said.
He said the appeal only affects Yankuba Badjie and therefore, he suggested that the other accused persons may open their defences while he waits for the outcome of their appeal.
Antouman A.B. Gaye for the State objected saying the application is not meritorious adding that the application is frivolous and calculated to waste the court’s time.
Mene, in his reply on points of law said the accused person has the constitutional right to appeal. He said all the accused persons are jointly charged, but they have different defences and therefore since he is waiting for the decision of the court of appeal, the other accused persons can open their defences.
Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara in the ruling held that the case will continue and the appeal cannot stall the proceedings of the court because the accused persons are charged with capital offences. She said the court will proceed with the defence of the other accused persons while the 1st accused person may open his defence last, and that is if he wishes.
Lawyers Antouman A.B. Gaye appeared for the State together with Yassin Senghore.
Lawyers Christopher E. Mene and Emmanuel E. Chime appeared for the ex-Director General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), S.Kenedy for the ex-Director of Operations, O. Suso for the 4th accused.