By Yankuba Jallow
Detained for 26 months in Mile 2 prisons without trial, Momodou Sowe does not still know why he was arrested and detained by the ex-regime.
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) was established by an Act of the National Assembly to dig into past human rights violations that occurred under the regimes of AFPRC and APRC. Sowe like many others was detained by the government of Yahya Jammeh beyond the constitutional limit of seven-two hours.
“I was incarcerated for 26 months without any charges. I was not told the reasons for my detention until today. I don’t know why I was detained,” Sowe said.
Sowe said, “from the day I was arrested until today, I don’t know why I was arrested. This question is still disturbing me.”
Appearing before the Truth Commission on Wednesday, 26th February 2020, Sowe told the TRRC that he was arrested and detained at the NIA for some days before he was taken to Mile II where he spent two years two months.
Sowe’s role as a protocol officer at the State House came to an end on the very day he was arrested by state security agents, but he was reinstated in September 2017 by the Personnel Management Office (PMO).
Sowe, a reinstated protocol officer at the State House was picked at his office at the State House by intelligence officers working with the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). He told the Commission that he was taken to the NIA headquarters where he was detained.
He said at the NIA gate, his three mobile phones, keys, wallet and other belongings were taken from him. He said at the investigation department of the NIA, Mustapha Jobe, an operative of the NIA asked him to write a statement explaining how he was brought to the NIA. He said after writing his statement, Jobe gave him a paper to write down his passwords for his laptop and mobile phones.
He said Sukuta Jammeh instructed the NIA personnel to place him under ‘light detention’ until they were through with the screening of his mobile phones and laptop. He said he was taken to the guard room at the entrance of the NIA complex. He added that he spent the whole day and night there. He told the Commission that the room was so tight that he couldn’t lie down to sleep.
“I couldn’t lie down. I sat down and slept,” the witness said.
He said the next day, on a Wednesday, nothing happened and he spent the whole day and night there.
“No human being should be kept in that room I was kept. In fact, it was a shame for a State agency to have such a horrible room,” the witness said.
He said on Thursday, he was taken out of his detention room and asked to escort them to his house. He said he was escorted to his home in Yundum and the NIA agents conducted search there.
“We found my wife cooking lunch. She was 4 months pregnant. When she saw me with these people, she was alarmed but I told her that they were security personnel conducting search,” Sowe said.
He told the Commission that he did not know what the NIA operatives were looking for.
“I asked them what they were looking for, but they wouldn’t respond to me,” the witness said.
He said the NIA did not find anything and after the search, he was taken back to the NIA. He said on their way to the NIA, Mustapha Jobe disclosed to him that he was arrested because he was suspected of sharing information to online newspapers. He said at the time Mustapha was telling him this information, the other NIA operatives had already alighted at the KMC.
He said he was taken to Louis Gomez’s office, adding that Gomez was the Director of Operations of the Agency. He said Gomez told him he was not found wanting. He said Gomez informed him that the people who gave the NIA the information wanted the NIA to deal with him. He added that Gomez told him that he will be released on the following day, Friday, because he was not found wanting. He said he was not released on Friday because it was a public holiday, adding that he wasn’t released until Tuesday with the condition that he has to report every day. He said this was his seventh day under detention. He added that he was not tortured or manhandled by the NIA agents.
He said usually he used to report to Sukuta Jammeh, but on Monday, 3rd December 2012, when he went, he was asked to report to Louis Gomez. He said Gomez asked him to sit and wait for his boys. He said within five (5) minutes, two of Louis’ boys came in and they told Gomez “Director we are ready”. He said Gomez asked him to follow the boys and “Gomez told me good luck.”
The witness said when he came down with the two NIA operatives, they found Louis Gomez’s Pajero packed and they boarded on it. He said one of the NIA operatives was called Suso. He added that Suso gave him all his belongings except the laptop which was never returned.
He said on their way, Suso told him that they were instructed to hand him over to the prison authorities at Mile II for detention until further notice. He said he was not arraigned before any court of law and was not charged. He said Suso told Commissioner Faal of the Prisons Department that it was an Executive Order for them to detain him until further notice.
“I was detained without any warrant and there was no document given to the Prisons authorities,” Sowe said.
He said he handed all his belongings at Mr. Faal’s office and he was taken to the Maximum Security Wing. He told the Commission that the cell he was detained was small and no human being should be detained there, adding that it has poor ventilation. He said he was given a bottle of water and a bucket. He added that he was sleeping on a concrete floor.
He told the TRRC when Faal and his men left, the inmates at the Maximum Security Wing were coming to his cell to talk with him.
“One of the inmates told me that they got information about my coming. The inmate said they were told that I was sent by Yahya Jammeh to prepare a new list of death row inmates,” he said.
He said until today, he hasn’t been told the reason for his arrest and detention. He said former Secretary General and Head of Civil Service Njogu Bah found him at Mile II. He said Bah was first detained at the main yard and later transferred to the confinement (maximum security wing). He said Njogu Bah said ex-President Jammeh was asking about him. He added Njogu Bah told Jammeh that “I went to the UK for studies.”
“I don’t think the Executive Order came from the President,” the witness said, adding “I believed that Njogu was hiding something from the President.”
He said before he was taken to Mile II, he was already operated with Cataract and when he was detained there, his condition got worst. He said the lighting system in the prisons and the place was dusty. He informed the Commission that he tried to get medication several times, but he was never taken to the hospital. He said whenever he wanted to be taken to hospital, the prison authorities used to tell him that those that brought him there should write to them before he will be taken to hospital.
He said his wife and mother both wrote to former President Yahya Jammeh pleading to him to release him. Sowe added: “despite the efforts by my wife and mother and the correspondence from the Office of the President, there were no efforts to release me.”
He said the Office of the President turned down the request by his wife seeking for audience. He said while working for the Government, he did not have a bank account and he used to buy livestock with his monthly earnings.
“When I was in Mile II, the livestock were sold by my family,” he said.
He said it was only Foroyaa Newspaper that published his detention. He added that it was the same newspaper that helped him get a lawyer. He said Lawyer Sagarr Jahateh filed a case before the high court, but the State in many cases failed to appear in court.
He said on the 21st January 2015, the Inspector General of Police sent some of his men to Mile II and he was taken to the Police Headquarters. He said the bail bond was he was supposed to bring a Gambian surety who shall deposit his or her biometric national identity card and a title deed of a landed property worth not less than five hundred thousand dalasis (D500,000). He said he was granted bail on the same day at the police headquarters. He said he was asked to report every day at 10 am.
He said after going to report after a week and half, he stopped because it was not easy for him to go for reporting every day from Yundum to Banjul.
“I told the OC that I cannot have the means to come and report every day because I was jobless and I was in the hands of a friend who was taking care of me,” he said.
Sowe said the OC understood him and asked him to stay at home with the condition that he should not go beyond Kafuta and Barra.
Foroyaa newspaper publications on the 17th July 2014 and 22nd January 2015 were tendered and marked as Exhibits.
He said the detention retarded his life very much. He told the Commission that his mother’s hypertension became worst because of his detention. He said because of his detention, it gave her wife a problem and this has affected her hearing.
He said his detention deteriorated his vision and now he cannot drive at night.
He said the high court delivered a judgment against him but on appeal, the Gambia Court of Appeal declared his detention as unlawful.
On his concluding remarks, Sowe thanked Foroyaa Newspaper for their support to him and their contribution to his release. He urged the Commission to help him engage the Government for him to be changed from the Office of the President and taken to another office.
Sittings continue today.