Lawyer Ousainou Darboe

(JollofNews) – A former leader of the Gambia’s opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, has hit back at President Yahya Jammeh accusing him of being economical with the truth.

Mr Jammeh during a meeting with members of the African Bar Association last Wednesday, accused Mr Darboe of being a violent man who wanted to plunge the Gambia into chaos. He also accused him of killing and mutilating the body of one ruling party supporter [Alieu Njie] in 2000 only for him to be acquitted by a ‘corrupt judge’ from the Commonwealth, who was on technical assistance in the Gambia despite all the evidence presented in court.

But in response to Mr Jammeh’s remarks, Mr Darboe said as President of the Gambia, Mr Jammeh should think carefully before making baseless allegations on national television. He said his hands are not littered with any blood and the murder offence he was charged with in 2000 was so weak that no reasonable judge could convict him.

He said the case was heard by a Nigerian judge, Justice Tahir, who contrary to Mr Jammeh’s remarks, was sent on technical assistance to the Gambia by the Government of Nigeria and not the Commonwealth.

Also reacting to Mr Jammeh’s allegations that he wanted to cause political instability when he took part in an unauthorised street protest in April this year resulting in his arrest and imprisonment Mr Darboe said: “I did go out on demonstration and I have said it in the past that I will not apply for permit to hold a meeting because my right to hold meetings is constitutionally guaranteed.”

He added:” But since the law provides that I cannot use the public address system without obtaining a permit, I always apply to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to grant me permission to use the public address system at our meetings. I said I will never ask for permission to hold meetings but I will always ask for permission to use a public address system because there is a distinction between permission to use a public address system and permission to hold a meeting. And I insist on that. When we were denied permit to use public address system, I went ahead and held a meeting and I was arrested. That is what they have been using; saying I said I will go on without a permit. That is not true!”

Solo Sandeng, Gambia oposition member died in detention for protesting against electoral reform.
Solo Sandeng leading the anti-regime protest before he was arrested.

Justifying his decision to take to the streets, Mr Darboe explained: “One of my supporters [Solo Sandeng] was arrested, which the government has every right to do, if you are suspected to have committed an offence. He was taken away and he died in detention.We don’t know how he died and we went out and said, give him to us dead or alive. That is my offence.”

He added: “I went out because I know that we have authorities from the Privy Council, Supreme Court of Nigeria, Court of Appeal in Nigeria, who stated that you do not need any permission to go out to demonstrate. One learned judge, Justice Okeke, did make it quite clear [in one of his landmark rulings]. So what offence have I committed?

“The reason I am telling you this is because I have been projected to be non-compliant with the law and that is certainly not the case. I have always been compliant with the law because if I am not, this country would have been in chaos long time ago. Since 1996 I could have put this country into chaos but no, I have no second home. This is my home. The stability of this country is in my best interest. If I want to carry on with my law practice, effectively, I have to do it in an atmosphere of tranquillity. I have absolutely no reason, no intention of destabilising this country.

“This is my first opportunity to make this public statement. I hope that in future when there is need to talk about matters affecting political parties, no reference is made to this because it really hurts me. It puts me in bad light.”

Solo Sandeng’s death certificate

It could be recalled that one of Mr Darboe’s supporters, Solo Sandeng was arrested in April after he organised a peaceful protest at the Westfield, Serrekunda, calling for proper electoral reforms and the resignation of President Jammeh.

After his arrest, he was moved to the feared National Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Banjul where he was tortured and killed within a few hours.

The Gambia government has admitted his death in custody and medical records said he died as a result of breathlessness. His body  is yet to be released and in an interview in May, President Jammeh said it was “common” for people to die in detention or while under interrogation.

Angered at his death, Mr Darboe and his supporters took to the streets to seek answers but were met by armed security officers who fired tear gas and live bullets at them before arresting and slapping them with criminal charges. A bail application made by their lawyers was rejected and their lawyers later walked out of court in protest at the biased nature of the judge.

Concerned at the nature of the case, Mr Darboe and his fellow defendants also gave a cold shoulder to the judge and refused to take part in what they described as a politically motivated case.

Although they were  found guilty in August and given a three-year jail term, Mr Darboe and his supporters were released at the beginning of December following the defeat of Mr Jammeh in the presidential elections.