By Yankuba Jallow
Lamin Cham, the editor-in-chief of The Standard Newspaper Monday testified on tortures he went through under the 22 – year rule of Yahya Jammeh.
The 54 – year old told the TRRC that that he was arrested on 30th May 2006 in Serekunda and taken to the Police headquarters in Banjul. He testified they proceded with him to the NIA headquarters in Banjul. Cham said he was tortured at the NIA by two of Jammeh’s most feared torturers after he was picked up from Serekunda –Tumbul Tamba and Musa Jammeh.
He said he was questioned at the NIA conference room with respect to his relationship with Pa Nderry M’bai of the Freedom Newspaper. He said this was after he had been beaten and tortured by 8 soldiers. He said he wasn’t told why he was arrested or even allowed access to a lawyer.
He named Musa Jammeh alias Maliamungu and Tumbul Tamba, as the leaders of a torture team that beat him up at the NIA.
Lamin Cham told the Commission that he sustained injuries all over his body.
“I was bleeding all over my body,” Cham adduced.
He explained that Mohammed Hydara the then deputy director of NIA told him to cooperate with them or else the men (torturers) would come back for him.
“I was taken behind the building at the NIA where a makeshift arena was made. I was then placed in the middle of a sand ring. While I was there, I saw Musa Jammeh, Tumbul Tamba and others approached me. There were eight of them and they were heavily drunk. You could smell the alcohol from their breaths even metres away. Before I could say anything, blows and kicks rained on me. They had whips and canes. Others were using their fists. They stamped me. I was bleeding profusely all over my body. When I was losing energy, Tumbul would stop the torturers like someone controlling a band and they would stop. When I regained consciousness and strength then they would continue with the beating,” Cham said.
Cham said the consequence of his arrest and detention was shattering, adding that he was afraid of staying in the country and left the Gambia.
He said: “They also wanted to know why I was mentioning Jammeh in my BBC reports and how much the BBC was paying me as their local correspondent. Why were you lying in your reports?”
He said he is the current editor-in-chief of The Standard. He joined the Daily Observer in 1992 and was editor-in-chief between April 2003 and October 2005. He was also a sports editor, freelance sports reporter for GRTS and the BBC.
He said before the July 1994 coup, the press was relatively free because of there was no visible harassment on journalists.
He revealed that the AFPRC Government banked on the Daily Observer for information at the time before the advent of a television station in the country.
He said ex-President Jammeh used to call journalists ‘illegitimate sons of Africa’. The witness divulged that in October 1994, Kenneth Best, the proprietor of The Daily Observer was the first journalist arrested and detained in a secret location in Kartong and was deported in November 1994.
He expounded on how the AFPRC dispatched immigration officials to Daily Observer premises to screen foreign journalists and he talked about a number of individuals that were under arrest and were later deported.
Cham voiced to the Commission that in May 1999, he received information that Daily Observer had been sold to Amadou Samba who was believed to be a close ally of the junta. He revealed that the editor-in-chief, Baba Galleh Jallow resigned on the principle that he couldn’t work with the Daily Observer and he left and established the Independent newspaper.
He divulged that the Daily Observer Editorial team did all the best to maintain the independence of the paper but the military government weren’t happy with the likes of Demba A. Jawo who were very critical of the Government and who in the end got sacked in 1999.
He told the Commission that the then managing director, Sarian Ceesay was removed and substituted by Buba Baldeh and the Daily Observer thereby got direct meddling on the editorial by the APRC Government. He told the Commission that Buba Baldeh indicated that the Daily Observer would not carry stories from the opposition about the then Government.
He alleged that ex-President Jammeh and some civil servants expressed hatred for journalists who had faith that journalists have a role to play in good governance. Mr. Cham told the Commission that journalism was the most oppressed profession under Jammeh’s regime.