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Friday, 19 October 2012 18:20(JollofNews) – This week, I will be revisiting the arrest and torture of a local businessman; Ebrima Barrow by Gambia’s feared NIA officers in June 2000.
Barrow was arrested and detained at the NIA headquarters in Banjul after he was reported to the authorities by FranCesco Caso, a former business partner of Tony Cartoni, of plotting with Captain Alhaji Kanteh, Lalo Jaiteh, Omar Darboe, Momodou Dumo Sarho, Momodou Marena, Ebrima Yarbo and others to overthrow the Government of Yahya Jammeh.
After reporting the men to the NIA, Caso who claim to be a former soldier in the Italian army, was given a top job at State House and rewarded with a car, a house in Yundum.
Below is Mr Barrow’s story as I continue to help hold power to account.
“On Thursday 30th June, 2000 at around 3 am, whilst fast asleep at my No. 43 Kombo Sillah Drive residence with my wife and children, some unknown men knocked at my door. I first ignored them, but as the banging on the door continued, I decided to open the door.
When I opened the door, some heavily armed men with balaclavas who surrounded my residence ordered me to raise my hands in the air. The men were led by FranCesco Caso, and without telling me anything, they bundled me into a waiting double cabin Nissan pick-up.
I was sandwiched between two heavily armed men who hit me on the face and insulted me when I tried to pray to God to save my life. Upon arrival at the NIA headquarters, I was stripped searched by my abductors who claimed be looking for jujus. I was later dumped stack naked in a bare cell near the criminal investigation section.
The following day, I was denied food and water by the NIA officers. When night came, I was taken from my cell to a remote room located at the far end of the building, where I met 12 officers including Foday Barry, Sukuta Jammeh, Baba Sarho, Babucarr Jallow, Ousman Jallow, Biram Jobe, Tijan Bah, Hydara, Rex Marong, another officer referred to as Doctor, among others.
Still stack naked, I was forced to sit on the bare floor by Tijan Bah who asked me three times about my involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the Government of the Gambia, which I denied knowledge of.
Tijan Bah and Biram Jobe insisted that I tell them about my involvement in the coup plot and when I couldn’t answer their questions, I was left with Edrissa Jobe, the bully boy of the NIA to deal with me.
I was mercilessly beaten and kicked on the stomach, back and other parts of the body including the face resulting in the lost of my three teeth. After severe torture which went on until 1:00 am, the Bully Boy grabbed me tightly by the throat and dragged me to the NIA reception room.
I was later taken to another office where I met Foday Barry, Sukuta Jammeh, Baba Sarho, Babucarr Jallow, Ousman Jallow, Biram Jobe, Tijan Bah, Hydara, Rex Marong and other officers. The men ganged up on me and brutally unleashed all sort of torture on me until I passed out. I woke up many hours later in a wet and smelly cell.
On 2nd July, 2000, I was again denied food. And when night came, I was taken to the same room at the far end corner of the building where I was subjected to more horrific torture by the NIA officers acting on the orders of Tijan Bah and Biram Jobe until I could not stand on my feet.
Edrissa Jobe, the bully boy, later dragged me by the ear to my cell where my mouth, nose and legs bled profusely throughout the night.
The following morning, the NIA officers who treated me like a captured run-away slave transferred me to a small wet cell. My legs were chained while my hands were handcuffed. I was denied food until in the evening when I was given bread and beans. Although I was very hungry, I was unable to eat the food as a result of my swollen mouth.
When night came, the same officers came for me. They told me to admit that I was part of the men who wanted to overthrow the government. When I refused, I was again subjected to more brutal torture which lasted for many hours.
On July 4, 2000, I was denied food and water. And was again taken to the torture chambers by the same officers, who threaten to kill me like a dog. They said they would kill me and dispose off my body without anyone knowing what had happened to me. I was again subjected to more serious beatings. When I fell on the floor, some officers started burning my buttocks with their cigarettes. When they were eventually tired, I was taken back to my cell.
The following night, the officers came for me again with a pen and paper with the assurances that I would be given food if I cooperate with them by writing a statement. When I refused and requested the services of a lawyer, I was severely beaten by Edrissa Jobe. Knowing that the beatings will never stop until I comply with their demands, I told them that I will write the statement.
Biram Jobe dictated to me what to write in the cautionary statement and Babucarr Jalllow recorded it in the presence of Sukuta Jammeh. When I finished writing the statement, I was given food and water.”
On 14th July 2000, Mr Barrow was taken to Kanifing Magistrates Court where he was charged together with Dumo Sarho, Ebrima Yarboe, Lalo Jaiteh, Omar Darboe, Abdoulie Sanyang and Momodou Marena with planning to kill President Yahya Jammeh and to overthrow his government. They were remanded at the Mile Two prisons where they were denied access to their families.
On 19th December 2000, the accused persons made their first appearance before Justice Grant of the High Court in Banjul, where they were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government of the Gambia by force, attempting to kill the head of state Yahya Jammeh, preparing to overthrow the government by unlawful means and attempting to overthrow the constitution of the Gambia in order to overthrow the government.
After their first court appearance, the state granted bail to Abdoulie Sanyang, who they wanted to use as a prosecution witness. However, Sanyang absconded and the charges against him were dropped.
The case suffered many delays and adjournments throughout 2001 and on 9th January, 2002 the state filed two additional charges of concealment of treason.
In October 2002, the men appeared before a new judge, Justice Ahmed Belgore . They both pleaded not guilty and were remanded at the Mile Two Prisons. However, before the case resumed, Ebrima Barrow was taken from his prison cell to the NIA headquarters and tortured by the NIA officers.
He said: “On 1st November 2002 while I was asleep in my prison cell, I was woken up by some heavily armed soldiers under the command of Lt Kombo and taken back to the NIA headquarters.
On the way, I was sandwiched between two fearful and heavily armed officers who upon arrival whisked me into Baba Sarho's office where I again met Tijan Bah, Babucarr Jallow, Sukuta Jammeh, Biram Jobe and Saihou Drammeh.
I was taken to another small room where I was interrogated. While I was answering their questions about my prison conditions, Saihou Drammeh administered electric sock on my back, which sent me jumping into the sky and falling hard on the ground with pain. As I reeled on the floor in pain, Biram Jobe poured cold water on my face and reminded me of the previous tortures I was subjected to..
‘‘The men asked me to change my not guilty plea to guilty when my case resume in court. They threatened to subject me to more severe torture should I refuse to cooperate with them.”
When the case resumed on 21st November, 2002, Mr Barrow was escorted to court by an unarmed policeman and without consulting his lawyer, he told Justice Belgore that he wanted to change his plea to guilty.
Barrow’s lawyer, Ousman Sillah protested and explained to the judge that he had been trying during the preceding week to see Mr Barrow in Mile Two Prisons but to no avail.
Barrow opted to represent himself in the case but was reminded by Justice Belgore that the offence he was charge with was a serious one and must have consultations with a lawyer. Mr Barrow then appealed for the State to appoint another lawyer for him which was granted.
Luckily for Barrow, he was able to get the services of Mai NK Fatty. Mr Fatty, who was newly called to the bar, took on the case with real determination and was able to convince the judge to open a trial within trial.
During the voir dire, Mr Fatty revealed how his client was tortured and even submitted Barrow’s three broken teeth as evidence.
In January 2003, the Commissioner of Prisons, David Colley, admitted in court that Barrow was indeed handed over to some officers for questioning. Mr Colley said he did not raise any objection to the NIA’s request for the transfer of Mr Barrow to them as it was a normal procedure in the country.
Colley was found guilty of contempt of court but was spared jail by the judge as punishing him would only make him a hero of nonentity.
At the end of the case, Ebrima Barrow and all his co-accused were acquitted and discharged by Justice Belgore on the ground that the prosecution had not proven its case beyond doubt and that the testimony of their only witnesses, FranCesco Caso was not reliable. The judge even called the prosecution witness a liar who only implicated the men in the plot for material gain.
It's worth noting that since the acquittal of Mr Barrow and his co-accused by Justice Belgore, who has since returned to his native Nigeria, no alleged coup plotter has walkout free from the Gambian courts.
Compiled by PK Jarju
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