By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Gambian Police Officers arrested and charged three persons for criminal trespass and malicious injury to property on Monday 11th October 2021, although one of those arrested had court documents proving ownership of the premises. A land dispute between Global Homes of Medical Mission (GHOMM) and the Government led to a standoff between Police and the purported owners on Monday 4th October 2021. Gainako has published two articles detailing that the owners have been denied access to their property by Police Officers against a High Court judgement.
Yesterday, 11th October 2021 another attempt to visit the former Anti-Crime Unit (ACU) Headquarters at Bijilo by GHOMM country representative, Ms Nenneh Freda Gomez accompanied by colleagues Lamin Sey and Gilbert Manga was denied by Police Officers stationed at the premises. All three were eventually arrested together with a cameraman from Fatu Network identified as Ebrima Jammeh who was eventually released without charges. The remaining three were initially detained at SeneGambia Police Station and transferred to Kairaba Police Station.
Change of Charges
Upon arrival at Kairaba Police Station the three detainees were initially charged with assault and obstruction, however, when questions were asked on the individual allegedly assaulted no witness was produced and neither was a complaint for assault lodged by the Police, forcing them to drop both charges. Both charges were replaced with two fresh charges; criminal trespass and malicious injury to property. The chop and change of charges were observed after detainees consulted with their Lawyer who advised detainees not to sign the charge sheet.
During the period when the charges were being amended, Senior Police Officers visited Kairaba Police Station to mediate with the detainees and their Lawyer. Meanwhile, the media and supporters of the detainees waited outside for hours for Police to charge the detainees and grant them bail. It was clear that Police Officers had a different plan and almost locked the detainees in jail for bailable and outright bogus charges.
According to Ms Gomez, their lawyer argued that the charges did not add up as their client has been granted possession of the property previously occupied by the ACU at Bijilo and could not be charged for damaging their own property. The lawyer also demanded that an open charge of assault would not be accepted and that a person had to be brought forward for such a charge to hold. After this back-and-forth, Officers finally charged all three detainees with criminal trespass and malicious injury to property and demanded that all detainees report to Kairaba Police Station on Tuesday 12th October 2021 at 12 midday.
Ministry of Justice False Claim
A statement issued by the Ministry of Justice on Monday 11th October 2021 titled “dispute over former Anti-Crime Premises at Bijilo” indicates that “reports circulating on social media alleging that the Government is blocking the purported owners of a piece of land in Bijilo from accessing their property” … “is totally false and could not be further from the truth”.
The statement further notes that “this matter is the subject of ongoing litigation in two suits before two separate judges of the High Court. Out of respect for the Court and Judicial Process, this office is not at liberty to discuss matters which are subject to litigation. We will have the opportunity to shed light on the true fact of the matter once the Courts have delivered their ruling in this matter”.
Contrary to the statement issued by the Ministry of Justice, Gainako can reveal that two court rulings have been issued on this matter dated 12th September 2019 by the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court and 29th June 2020 by the High Court.
The first ruling issued by the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court ruled that the defendants which include the Inspector General of Police, Ministry for the Interior, Director for Lands and Surveys and the Attorney General should give the plaintiffs (GHOMM) “possession of all that property situated at Bijilo”. Magistrate I. Janneh Njie of the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court ruled that the defendants were to pay GHOMM a sum of D75,000 and also pay rent for occupying the property.
The second ruling issued by the High Court also ruled in favour of GHOMM, reinforcing the judgement of the Kanifing Magistrates’ Courts. In the High Court ruling, Justice F. Achibonga resolved that “the purpose for which the Applicant’s said property has been compulsorily acquired by the Defendants is not for public use” and ordered the Government to pay an additional D500,000 to GHOMM.
However, the plaintiffs have still not been paid the fine nor the rent owed to them during the period in which the ACU occupied the property.
Seized by the Jammeh Government and Occupied Illegally by the Barrow Government
It must be recalled that the GHOMM were initially allocated the land by the Gambia Government in 2007 by the former Government of President Yahya Jammeh who inaugurated the building which provided medical services in Bijilo. In a complete reversal, former President Jammeh evicted the owners from the country in 2010 and the premises was then occupied by the Green Boys, a vigilante group associated with former President Jammeh and the Security Institutions.
Representatives of GHOMM say that they built the building worth up to $1.5 million; this includes both the building and medical equipment which have all been scavenged after the initial owners of GHOMM were ordered to leave the country.
When the new Government of President Adama Barrow came into office in January 2017, the premises were allocated to the Anti-Crime Unit in 2018. They have since vacated the premises in September 2021 and are now located at the Police School next to the Airport in Yundum.
The premises is currently occupied by Police Officers who are currently squatting at the former ACU Headquarters. It’s alleged that the Government is planning on building a Hotel for the Organisation of Islamic Countries conference scheduled to be held in 2022 even though two court judgements have been ruled in favour of GHOMM.
Editor’s Note: This Police case demonstrates the obnoxious practice of Police Officers in moving detainees from the nearest Police Station which in this case was Brusubi or Senegambia Police Station to Kairaba Police Station. Given that the arresting officers were not present this explains the difficulty for Officers not familiar with the case to charge the three detainees. This obnoxious practice occurred in 2019 when the Ministry of Justice remanded over 30 youths in Mile Two. All of the arrested youth were released with no case to answer.
Another obnoxious practice by the Police is the outright refusal to provide detainees with their charge sheets. Senior Officers at Kairaba Police station were confronted to provide detainees with their charge sheets multiple times and outrightly refused. A Senior Police Officer in charge questioned supporters “when have you ever heard of a charge sheet being provided to detainees”.
This opaque practice of moving detainees from station to station allows orders to be followed without proper understanding of the Police case by isolating the arresting Officers from the case. The practice of denying detainees their charge sheet is also another calculated tactic that ensures that detainees are not fully aware of their charges in court and thereby denying them the opportunity to prepare for their defence. This practice denies poor Gambians who cannot afford legal representation a fair hearing in court.
Below are the links to the two publications by Gainako on this case.