By Momodou Jarju
Philip Saine, a witness of the Truth Commission (TRRC) has on Monday explained the numerous challenges the Christians community endured under the reign of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.
Explaining one of the incidents of persecution of Gambian Catholics, Saine recalled the attack on regular Sunday worshippers at the Omega Evangelical Church. Mr. Saine said the church is situated close to a mosque and while the Christians were praying, the Muslims too had a special prayer. He said before the Muslims gathered round for their prayer, the Christians were already assembled inside the church.
“When the Christians group from the church was ready to go home, the exit points were fully occupied and tension and noise started coming up- people who wanted to pray in the location and people who wanted to be allowed to move away from that area,” he explained.
Saine said commotion erupted and the Muslims especially the youth threw stones at the church, breaking some windows in the process. He added that the police intervened and made some arrest.
“Some of the people arrested in the church never attended the church service, because as a result of the commotion, they had to come in to find out. By the time the police came to arrest, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
He said the arrestees were taken to the police station and they spent more than a day there. Saine said some of the Christians arrested were threatened to be sent out of the country because they were said to be non-Gambians.
“The issue later died down when they were released,” he testified.
Counsel Faal asked would what some people thought then that while the Muslims were praying the Eid nearby church was blaring and making noise. Saine said that could be the case and agreed that the incident was not planned, but a coincidence. He later agreed that the incident be dropped as a violation but an inconvenient that occurred and was later resolved.
On the issue of interruption of religious processions, Sain said in April 2016 the Catholic community had a religious procession which started from Banjul to Kairaba Avenue, but they experienced some interruptions.
First, he said the police interrupted them at the Arch of Banjul and they were told that the State House wanted to know the reasons for the procession and they said it was a religious procession. He said they were allowed to continue. At Kaiara Avenue, he said a lone driver was driving fast and tried to overtake and thus interrupted the procession. He believed the driver’s action was a display of intolerance.
On police imposing ban on drumming during the month of Muslims fasting- Ramadan, Saine said the police had interrupted several communities in churches to stop the Christians from dancing and drumming as a result of the ban imposed by the Police.
He cited one incident in Old Jeshwang where the police stopped the Christians from celebrating the dead of an old woman. Saine said the Inspector General Police (IGP) said the ban was an executive order and the order was published on the Daily Observer 8 June 2016 and read on GRTS. He said the dispatch was not helpful in the Gambian communities because it has resulted in people spying and reporting one another.
He said that was the first time he heard of a ban on such matter. He said delegations were sent and letters were written to the IGP to seek clarifications on the matter.
“And different Christians communities met the IGP to permit them to carry on,” he said.
He said some negotiated with the police, others did not and some even had to run from the police. He said even though the IGP clarified that the ban did not extend to the Christians worship, the ban continued to be effective.
“The people who got the explanation from the police, told us the same thing,” he said.
He said those who were arrested for violation of the ban were never prosecuted instead they would be released later through negotiation. Saine said the act targeted the Christian community. In essence, he said it was discrimination.
“These were targeting a specific community continuously,” he said.
On the head scarf controversy in St. Therese junior secondary school, between April and July 2003, Mr. Saine that was one of the first incidents of religious intolerance in the country. Explaining what happened, Saine said one day, some girl students of the aforementioned school entered the school premises with different types of uniforms for the first time.
“The length of the uniform used to be below the knees now they extended it to above the ankle. The school badges with the motto insignia of the school for all those children were ripped off from the school uniform. So they were entering the school ground without the badge and a different length of dress and they put on the head scarf as well,” he said.
Saine said the school asked the students to go home and come with the proper uniform. He there was a push and pull over the issue and the school was closed eventually.
“Because the school authority insisted unless these students come with proper school uniforms, they wouldn’t be admitted again,” he said.
He said the said students who had support at that time from the opposite Bilal Mosque were agitating and it became a thug of war. He said government authority intervened to resolve the matter, and the school was reopened eventually.
“The government made an announcement that the school has all rights to stipulate a uniform and if it is to be changed it had to come from the school or the teacher parents association not from outside. This was how it was resolved,” he said.