The pervasive and out of control ‘Judicial activism’ mainly by foreign judges from Nigeria and Cameron employed by Gambia’s Dictator Yahya Jammeh has led to a legal Defense team walking out of court in protest today in the Gambian capital Banjul. The largest defense team led by lawyer Antouman Gaye defending Opposition leader lawyer Ousainou Darboe and co. who are standing trial on six counts of politically motivated charges unceremoniously walked out of court in protest against what they called blatant and total disregard for judicial proceedings in court.
The lawyers walked away in protest after a Nigerian female activist judge Justice E. O Dada presiding over the case failed to prevent security personnel present in court from interfering with lawyers wishing to speak to their clients in private. The army with guns walked into a private room where lawyers were speaking to their clients insisting that they will have to listen. This is in gross violations of lawyer client privacy protocol. When Justice Dada was asked to order the army out of the room, she said “I cannot prevent the army from listening in” signaling that she has no control over her court proceedings and therefore was only there doing what she is asked to do. The seasoned lawyers consisting of members of the Gambia Bar Association protested vehemently and walked out of court followed by spectators in the court leaving the court room empty with only the Prosecutor, the judge and the accused. It was quite a scene never seen in the history of the Gambia.
The defense lawyers have tried for weeks to get the semi-literate Judicial activist judge to follow court proceedings in accordance with the Gambian constitution to no avail. The lawyers argued that since the case which was vacated by another judge who quit due to the interference from the attorney general’s office and apparent maltreatment and physical torture of detainees, that the case cannot continue as normal and according to Gambian law such a case needs to be transferred to the high court. They argued that since they have filed at the high court for the case to be heard certain counts and charges cannot be prosecuted in the same court. However, Ms E.O Dada who was recruited illegally by the Government Prosecutor Mr. S.H. Barkum to take over the highly politically motivated case, refused all applications filed by the defense for her to adhere to Gambian law. She has been reported to be very condescending and rude towards the lawyers.
The defense team consistinh of several senior members of the Gambia Bar Association and volunteers who are working bonobo to defend lawyer Darboe and his team. Darboe is a well respected Senior member of the Gambia Bar Association and a legal luminary well known for his scholarly work. Darboe and members of his party were arrested protesting the killing of one of his party executives Solo Sandeng who was arrested and tortured to dead by Gambia’s security forces. Darboe along with his daughter and others have spent more than two months in Jail for exercising their constitutional rights to peaceful protest demanding electoral reform.
The case has attracted international outcry and condemnation from legal scholars; rights groups and political activists. Many believe that what the trial of Mr. Darboe and others revealed is the total control of the judiciary and judges by the Jammeh government to prosecute and jail political opponents who dare to challenge his totalitarian rule. Never in the history of the Gambia have a presiding judge who was believed to be an activist quit a case for lack of merit and political interference. The case is seen in many quarters as a test of the moral stance of the Gambia bar association and the ethical conduct of judges who are the custodians of justice. It is unprecedented that women who are alleged to be tortured and who could not even stand up in court could be denied bail and returned to their alleged torturers and rapists. The situation is so tense that the President of the Gambia Bar Association is reported to have resigned from her position further throwing the state of the Judiciary into shambles. A Chief Justice who was fired for advising the government against the proceedings of the case has been reinstated temporary to avoid a total collapse of the judicial system. How the case of Darboe and others would proceed without legal representation in court would be interesting to see. Meanwhile, all eyes are on Gambia as the International community is glued to the proceedings. Gainako will continue to monitor the case and will update readers as more information come in about the case.