The Director General of The Gambia Prison Services, Ansumana Manneh, appearing before the High Court presided over by Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara to shed light as to why eight former officials of the defunct NIA were kept in solitary confinement by the prison authorities.
DG Ansumana Manneh denied that the accused persons were placed in solitary confinement but were transferred to the security wing at the Mile Two Prisons. He told the court that this measure was taken as a means of controlling the inmates.
The eight former operatives of the defunct NIA are Yankuba Badjie, Louie Gomez, Sheikh Omar Jeng, Babucarr Sallah, Haruna Susso, Tamba Mansaray, Lamin Darboe and Lamin Lang Sanyang and are facing trial on 26 counts among them conspiracy to murder, alleged murder of Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the late UDP youth activist, assault causing grievous bodily harm, making false document without proper authority amongst others.
The prosecution led by lawyer Antouman A.B. Gaye had called about 22 witnesses and tendered several exhibits since the trial started last year. The issue of how the statement of Yankuba Badjie was obtained led to the adjournment of the case to October for a mini trial to be conducted to ascertain the voluntariness of the said statements of Yankuba Badjie. When the case resumed on October 9, the defence counsels told the court that their clients were been subjected to inhuman treatment by placing them in solitary confinement.
Lawyer Ibrahim Jallow, defence counsel for Sheikh Omar Jeng informed the court that his client was admitted at the EFSTH in Banjul and was suffering from several ailments associated with pains which as a result of the solitary confinement.
Sergeant Alfulsainey Gibba of the Prison Service told the court that the accused persons were moved from the remand wing as a result of the incident that happened at the Remand Wing early last month.
The DG of Prisons was summoned by Presiding Judge, Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara to appear before the court and give explanation as to why the accused persons were placed in solitary confinement.
On the 10th October, Supt. Momodou Lamin Ceesay appeared before the court to inform the court that the DG of Prisons was indisposed and couldn’t come to court.
Justice KumbaSillah-Camara informed the court that she was giving the DG of Prisons another chance to appear before the court and the matter was adjourned to October16 for the DG to appear before the court and explain why the accused persons were placed in solitary confinement.
The DG narrated the alleged incident of holding some of the Prison Officials hostage and pointed out that a panel was set up and the report of the investigation was not ready.
The DG revealed that according to reports, it was learnt that Yankuba Badjie, the 1st accused person was behind the showdown.
When asked of the where about of Louie Leese Gomez, the second accused person, the DG told the court that he sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior and the Master of the High Court.
Antouman Gaye, Lead Counsel for the prosecution suggested that the court conduct a proper proceeding as to the where about of the 2nd accused person.
Defence Counsel C.E. Mene submitted that the information given to the court by the DG Prison that the accused persons were moved to the security wing and not kept in solitary confinement was inaccurate.
Mene argued that keeping the accused persons in solitary confinement is a punitive measure and to say that because one of the accused person was involved and to punish the others was a gross violation of their fundamental rights.
Mene further submitted that to subject them to solitary confinement for over one month and six days until the court had to make an order for them to be returned to the remand wing is tantamount to violating their rights.
For his part, Lawyer B. Gomez, the defence counsel for the 2nd accused, Louie Gomez, said the complaint that the accused persons were placed in solitary confinement is a violation of their rights.
He, however, informed the court that his client, Louie Richard Leese Gomez has passed away in custody.
Lawyer Gomez argued that the accused persons can provide accurate information, noting that they were all placed in separate solitary confinement.
Lawyer Ibrahim Jallow, defence counsel for the 3rd accused person, Sheikh Omar Jeng submitted that the action of the DG of Prisons in moving the accused persons to solitary confinement was a gross violation of the their rights.
“Where is the rule of law that the New Gambia is shouting about,” he queried.
He pointed that the DG does not have the discretion to violate the fundamental rights of the accused persons.
He revealed that his client has been in and out of the hospital as a result of the treatment meted on him, noting that his client is a high-blood-patient and was recently diagnosed with pneumonia.
He stated that the accused persons are kept at Mile Two Prison for their safety but not to be exposed to danger.
Lawyer S. Fatty, the defence counsel for Babucarr Sallah, Tamba Mansaray and Lamin Darboe told the court that the DG’s action was discriminatory, disobedient to the court and a punitive measure and noted that his clients shouldn’t have been placed in solitary confinement.
Lawyer Uzoma Achigbue, the defence counsel for Haruna Susso submitted that the previous defence lawyers have articulated the instructions of the accused persons.
He commended the court for judicial consideration, noting that they recognised the prompt intervention by the court.
He informed the court that he had received a further reprisal, noting that his client had been stripped of all privileges including visitation by members of his family and as for him as the counsel, it has become very difficult to conveniently perform his function.
Lawyer Uzoma submitted that all the parties in the case recognised the basic principles of why they are on trial; that they remain innocent until proven guilty and therefore urged the court to bring this basic principle to the attention of the prison authorities.
Antounman A.B. Gaye, the lead prosecutor submitted that the DG of Prisons had stated that he was waiting for the report and urged the court to wait for the report of the investigations into September 3rd Prison Hostage before the court can make an informed decision.
In her ruling, presiding judge, Kumba Sillah-Camara referred to the statements made by Sgt.Aifusainey Gibba, Spt. Ceesay and the statement of the Prison DG, Ansumana Manneh. She reiterated the provisions of Section 24 of the 1997 Constitution on the right of the accused persons and the presumption of innocent until proven guilty. Justice Camara implored the DG to inform the court of any development regarding the accused persons in Mile Two.
She ordered that all the rights of the accused person be respected and restored, and as for the report it will be made available to the court as soon as it is ready.
She stated that the court will not tolerate any violation of the accused persons’ rights, noting that the court will revisit the issue of the solitary confinement after receiving the report.