Faces of Gambians Who Disappeared Without Trace

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By Fabakary B. Ceesay

Gross violations of human rights in the form of arbitrary arrest, detention without trial and disappearance without trace of people continue unabated in the Gambia. Dozens of Gambians from all walks of life – civilians, members of the security apparatus and other citizens – spend several years and months languishing in detention at Police Stations, Mile II Central Prison and secret hideouts. They are deprived of their constitutional right to face the due process of the law.  

The remand wings of Mile II Central Prisons are so congested and infectious that some inmates started dying from contagious diseases.  The anger over detention without trial reached a tipping point late last year, with inmates attempting to free themselves as evidenced by their protest. Also of concern to the inmates are overcrowding, poor quality food, lack of sanitation, medical facility, mistreatment by prison authorities and denial of their other fundamental rights.

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Most of these people were arrested by members of National Intelligence Agents (NIA) and other security apparatus in the presence of their family and friends, are still uncounted for after years and months of their abduction. Though all these violations are being perpetuated against innocent citizens, only few families would volunteer to give out information about the disappearance of their loved ones due to fear rules. In some cases to mention the name of the disappeared person even in the family house has become a taboo.

Jisaja Kujabi, a native of Dobong village, in the Foni Kansala District, was taken from his farm since the summer of 2005, while working with his family. The family said identified spy agents told him “the Big Man [President Jammeh] wanted to see him” and taken to his house to change his farm clothes before taken away. The Family said that was the last time they saw him and up to date they did not know his whereabouts, despite frantic efforts.

Haruna Jammeh, a relative of president Jammeh, was in charge of several key points at Kanilai farm at the time of his abduction and disappearance.  He was arrested on the same evening of 2005 Jasarja was taken from his farm. According to family sources Haruna was also told that the big man wanted to meet him. The source said that was the last time his family heard of him.

Mrs. Masireh Jammeh, also a relative of president Jammeh, a one time employee at State House, went missing since15 July 2005. This happened after she protested against the arrest of Jisaja and Haruna thus resulting to her sacking from State House. Family sources said she returned to Kanilai and continued to confront security agents on the disappearance of Haruna and Jasarja. To the surprise of her family, the woman fondly called Marcie, also went missing the evening President Jammeh visited the village and was verbally confronted by Marcie in public about Haruna and Jisaja. Sources said on her way to her house after her confrontation with Jammeh, she was abducted and disappeared up to date.

Mr. Lamin Tunkara, from Kinteh Kunda- Marong Kunda, Central Baddibu District, was arrested on 21 July 2005, by a group of CID and NIA agents behind Albert Market. His family said his house in Tallinding Kujang was ransacked by the said security agents who confiscated monies in foreign denominations, CFA, Dollar, Euro and Dalasi. The family said he was detained at the Police Headquarters in Banjul for few days and later at Kairaba Station. During one of their visits to Kairaba they were told by Police officers on duty that Lamin and his colleagues have escaped from custody. His family said while under detention, Lamin told them he was accused of been an agent of some foreign nationals to facilitate their journey through back way to Spain. The whereabouts of Lamin Tunkara became a misery to his family until in May 2009, when ECOWAS-UN releases their investigation report into the death of some West African nationals in The Gambia, many of whom Ghanaians. The eight month long investigation blames some Gambian security agents by “acting on their own took part in the death and disappearance of African nationals including Ghanaians”. The report added that, the “scam perpetuated by one Captain Taylor and LamineTumkara a Gambian to transport them to Europe by sea”. The report added that Lamin and Taylor shall be hunted and “prosecuted”.

In July 2009, President Jammeh in an interview with GRTS, in which he castigated Deyda Hydara, down played the disappearance of Kanyiba Kanyi and Chief Manneh, said he was informed of an incident on the eve of July 22, 2005, that 2 buses loaded with men was intercepted at the border entering Gambia and he ask them to send them back. He added that he could not understood how 2 buses loaded with foreigners heading into The Gambia when they were preparing for the anniversary of their revolution.

Alhagie Momodou Lamin Nyassi, former Chief of Foni Kansala, Alagie Buba Sanyang {alias Bubai} and Mr. Ndongo Mboob, all natives of Bwiam Village and good friends were arrested together on 4 April 2006. Their families said the trio was arrested by NIA agents on board a numberless tinted glass vehicle. Bubai Sanyang was picked up at his home while performing ablution for Maghreb Prayer. He was only allowed by his abductors to hand over his cell phone to one of his wives before been whisked away.

The Nyassi Family said the former Chief was arrested at his compound gate from visiting Bubai Sanyang. Ndongo Mboob was also picked shortly after he arrived at his house after visiting Bubai to prepare for Maghreb prayer. That was the evening the 3 friends are ever seen or heard of.

Journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, State House Reporter and Crime Watch Columnist of Daily Observer Newspaper, was arrested at work on 7 July 2006, taken to Bakau Police Station and later seen a private care been driven to Banjul. That was the last time he was seen. His family made several efforts by engaging security chiefs, then NIA Harry Sambou, then IGP Ousman Sonko, senior civil servants, VP Isatou Njie Saidy, Imam Fatty, but all rejected their appeal for help in the search of loved.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), based in Accra, Ghana, on 19 June 2007, filed a suit against the Gambia government at the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, Nigeria. The hearing of the case commenced on16 July 2007, but The Gambia never respected the ECOWAS Court by failing to appear, even though they were served with the summons of the suit. The case was adjourned to January 2008, with the Gambia government repeatedly failing to appear.  The MFWA rode with the case and called two Gambian journalists to the witness stand, Ousman Darboe and Yaya Dampha who gave evidence in the trial. The Court ordered for the appearance of Superintendent Aziz Bojang, former Police PRO, Captain Tumbul Tamba, Major Musa Jammeh and former IGP Minister Ousman Sonko, to testify. All these people failed to appear before the ECOWAS Court. On 5 June 2008, judgment was entered in favour of the missing journalist and ordered the Gambian authorities to release and compensate him an amount of US 100, 000 Dollars.

The Gambia government never made any public comment about the missing journalist until in February 2009 when the matter was raised in Parliament by then Minority leader Momodou Sanneh. Then Justice Minister Mrs. Marie Saine Firdaus stated that Journalist Ebrima 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 fail to give any supportive evidence about his claims. The current IGP Yankuba Sonko also told a local paper that the missing journalist is residing in the United States, also fail to give provide and proof.

In 2008, the Solicitor General told Amnesty International Researchers that the government believed Chief Manneh was “abducted as it has been claimed, though no body from the government had been involved.