Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Political prisoners and their trials: The case of Ballo Kanteh, Sulayman Sarr and others

The notorious Mile II prisons
This blog post is by a guest writer who prefers anonymity.  The writer has brought it to our attention that the blog post is based, in large part, on the reporting of FOROYAA newspaper (2005 edition)

We allowed this contribution because we hope it will help shed light on a vexing issue of the state of the judiciary in The Gambia where the dictatorship has successfully blurred the boundaries between the judiciary and the executive branches of government in 21 years at the detriment of those who seek justice.

We hope this will be a first in a series of articles about the Gambian judiciary and how it has been corrupted by the Jammeh regime.

Sidi Sanneh

It was like a bolt in the blue when murder and treason convicts brazenly told the Supreme Court that their appeals were torn by a prison warden and that they filed their appeals several years ago contrary to the information on their appeals. The appellants wasted no time in exposing certain things which they felt are abnormal.

The Farafenni attackers namely, Sulayman Sarr, Alieu Bah and Omar Dampha together with Lamin Fatty, a murder convict, clarified issues when they told the Supreme Court that they had filed their appeals several years ago. Sulayman Sarr, Ballo Kanteh and Omar Dampha were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment after they were found guilty of committing treason. Readers could recall that Sarr, Kanteh and Dampha were arrested and tried at the High Court after they were indicted for attacking Farafenni Military barracks and killing some soldiers.

However, during Monday’s sitting of the court, some of the inmates at Mile Two Central Prisons claimed that they had filed appeals immediately after they were convicted. But the information on their appeals have it that they appealed recently, and as a result, the court had to strike out their appeals because it found out that the appeals were incompetent and were made beyond the time limit set for appeals. It must be noted that most of the prisoners who were in the dock were illiterates who do not know how the courts operate. They (Prisoners) spoke local languages. However, Lamin Fatty an ex-police officer who was convicted for committing murder said his appeal was torn by a prison warder at the prisons reception.

When his case was called, Chief Justice Brobbey asked him when he filed his appeal. In his reply, the appellant said he filed his appeal in 1993. At this point, Chief Justice Brobbey told him that the information on his appeal have it that he filed his appeal in 2005. But Mr. Fatty was quick to explain the circumstances surrounding his appeal.

In his explanation, Mr. Fatty said he was convicted and sentenced to a period of three years on 17th February 1992. He said he filed an appeal at the court of appeal and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

He said he did file an appeal at the Privy Council because the Supreme Court was not constituted at the time. In his narration, Mr. Fatty said his Lawyer at the time Edu Gomez came to the prisons and told him that from here to London was expensive and his Family could not afford it. According to him, he had left everything in the hands of God and hoped a moment would come when he could pursue his case in court.

Going further, Mr. Fatty said the authorities at the prisons did inform him in the year 2004 that a Supreme Court now exists in the Gambia. He said he filed an appeal at the Supreme Court last year. He pointed out that the said appeal was torn by a prison warden who told him that the document was old and dirty and that the appeal should be on new piece of paper. He said the appeal dated 2005 was the one prepared by the prison authorities after the other one was destroyed.

The chief Justice at this juncture told the appellant that the his appeal is out of time, because the information before the court have it that  the appeal was filed in 2005.The court concluded the matter by striking out the case .However ,the appellant was advised by the court to file a notice and seek for an extension. The court also advised the appellant to state in his appeal why he has not been able to make his appeal on time.

When he entered the dock, Sulayman Sarr told the court that he was sentenced in the year 1997.At this stage the Chief Justice told the appellant that the information on his appeal have it that he filed his appeal in 2005.However this was contested by Sulayman Sarr. In his argument, Sarr told the court that he filed his appeal shortly after he was convicted in 1997.Going further, Sarr said he and his colleagues were freed by the court of Appeal, but the state rearrested them and filed an appeal at the Privy Council. Continuing his explanation, Sarr said they were waiting for the outcome of the case at the Privy Council all these years. He pointed out that they were not wearing convict uniforms all these years, noting it was march last year that they were informed by the Director General of Prisons that they should wear convict uniforms. At this stage, the Chief Justice asked Sulayman Sarr to tell the court who convicted him. In his reply, Sarr told the court that he was convicted by DPP Agim, the crowded court room burst into laughter when Sarr made this accusation.

DPP Agim stood and threw light on the issue. According to him, Sarr and his colleagues were sentenced to death in the year 1997. He said the death sentence passed by the High Court was later commuted to life imprisonment by the Court of Appeal.  He said the state later filed an appeal at the Privy Council and challenged the decision of the Court of Appeal. He pointed out that the state later abandoned the appeal it filed at the Privy Council. DPP indicated that the Director General of Prisons approached him sometime march last year and asked him about the fate of  Sarr and his Co/convicts..

The DPP said he read the judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal and later informed the Prison boss that Sarr, Ballo Kanteh and Omar Dampha are convicted by the Court. The Court asked the DPP whether the Appellants were informed that the state had abandoned the appeal it filed at the Privy Council.  In his reply, the DPP pointed out that he came to the Gambia three years after the appellants
were convicted. According to DPP Agim, the appellants did misconstrue the State\s application at the Privy Council to mean that they have been acquitted by Court of Appeal.

‘You can apply for an extension of time. The records have shown that you appealed in 2005 you have some points in your favour. You can go back and put your house in order’. The Court told the appellant.

The case was later struck out by the court. Ballo Kanteh and Omar Dampha also held the view that they were freed by the court but they were later rearrested by the state. The DPP later told the court that the explanation he gave regarding Sulayman Sarr applies to the case of Ballo Kanteh and Omar Dampha. The court later decided to strike out the appeals by both Kanteh and Dampha, The court held the view that the appeals filed by the appellants are out of time.