By Yankuba Jallow
Dismissed police commissioner Omar Jawo has admitted that he participated in the arrest of residents of Barra and Essau during the 2009 witch-hunting exercise.
“I participated in the operation. I represented the police. It was not my wish, but I have to cooperate. I did not deny participating in the operation, but it was led by the witch-hunters together with Solo Bojang. They were deciding who was to be arrested,” Jawo admitted.
The former police superintendent was the Officer Commanding (OC) Barra Police Station at the time of the witch-hunting exercise. Jawo was promoted a few months before the witch-hunting exercise and was promoted two months after the exercise to the position of Commissioner of Operations of Police.
“Counsel I have participated in an illegal enterprise (witch-hunting exercise). I was fully aware that it was unlawful. Counsel, the situation (then) compelled me to do what I did,” he said.
The witch-hunting exercise happened on either the 8th or 9th March 2009 in Barra and Essau. Several women and men were forcefully taken away by witch-hunters in Essau and Barra. The abductees were made to drink hallucinogenic concoction. Several witnesses testified that Jawo was principal in the whole exercise while others alleged he participated in their torture. Jawo was the senior police officer who was with the witch-hunters during the witch-hunting exercise.
“I know it was unlawful to gather people and accuse them with witchcraft,” he said.
Appearing before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission on Thursday, 5th December, the 59-year-old said the exercise happened on a Monday when Solo Bojang, a soldier working at State Guard together with Malafi Corr – a native of Barra and Saikou Jallow both soldiers working with the Gambia Armed came to Barra Police Station and told him that they were sent by former president Jammeh. He said the three came with four to five witch-hunters to Barra and they came straight to his office with the information that they were sent by former President Jammeh to capture witches and wizards.
“I was surprised, Counsel. Immediately Solo Bojang told me this, I called my Commissioner late Kebba Jammeh and informed him what Solo Bojang told me. He (Commissioner Jammeh) told me that I have to comply. My boss informed me that the Inspector General of Police complied and did not stop the witch-doctors when they came to the police headquarters,” he said.
When asked why he complied with an unlawful order, the witness said in the former regime, whatever the former head of state desired was what everyone executed, failure of which the person will face the consequence of his/her actions. He said the people who failed to adhere to the orders of the former President were subjected to degrading treatments including detention without trial or sometimes disappearance without trace.
“I followed Solo Bojang’s instructions because he was very close to the former President (Jammeh),” Sowe said.
He said the witch-hunting exercise was led by the witch-doctors together with Solo Bojang.
“It was not my wish to participate in the witch-hunting exercise. I have to cooperate because I was under duress. The former regime ‘was not an easy one’. Those days were dark. What the Inspector General of Police and Commissioner of police couldn’t stop, I can’t stop,” he said.
Jawo admitted that he was moving together with the witch-doctors, Solo Bonjang and soldiers from one compound to another abducting people who the witch-hunters identified as witches and wizards.
“I participated only in the arrests and not their torture. I did not torture any person,” Jawo said in response to allegation by several survivors that he was part of their torturers.
The 59-year-old denied participating in the arrest and torture of Lamin Ceesay, a former headmaster who on that day came to the village “Bantaba,” saying his parents will not be taken away. Jawo said he was not present at the time Ceesay was arrested, but during his testimony, Ceesay said Jawo participated in his torture both at the ‘Bantaba’ and at the military camp at Fort Bullen in Barra. Jawo told the Commission that he was sitting in his official car and heard argument at the “Bantaba´ and when he alighted from his vehicle, he found Ceesay was in cuff. He denied seeing any injuries on Ceesay’s body despite the testimonies of several eyewitnesses that Ceesay was injured on his body particularly on his face.
“I did not torture Lamin Ceesay. I did not see Ceesay at Fort Bullen,” Jawo said in response to the testimony of Ceesay who said the former police officer was among those who tortured him in a room at Fort Bullen for standing against the orders of former President Jammeh.
Jawo said from the “Bantaba,” the captured people were taken to Fort Bullen and later transported to Kololi, to the residence of former lawmaker Baba Jobe.
“I participated in the arresting. I did not participate in the beating of anyone. I am here to defend all what they stated in their testimonies,” Jawo said.
He admitted calling Alagie Faye to the Barra Police Station to come and answer to him.
“I called him (Alagie Faye) personally. I did that to save him because he could have been harassed in front of his family. I did not lure him Counsel. I told him he was needed at the station for discussion, although I knew what he was needed for. I knew it was part of the witch-hunting exercise. I was trying to save him from harassment by the soldiers (Saikou Jallow and Salifu Corr) whose plan was to mishandle him,” Jawo said.
When asked why he did that, Jawo said he did that to save his personal life because he would have faced the consequence of his refusal.
He told the Commission that he was with the witch-hunters in Kololi and that he was also made to drink the concoction.
“I met people in very bad condition. I regretted going there. I saw many crying. I saw some urinating on themselves; Counsel their condition was very inhumane. I saw the witch-doctors bathing some of them,” Jawo said.
He said the people were made to drink “kubejaro” which can make a person loss psyche instantly.
“If they give you “Kubejaro” you instantly go insane,” he said.
He said he was called by Solo Bojang to drink the concoction.
“Solo Bojang told me it was an executive order from the ‘big man’ (Yahya Jammeh), so I drank the concoction. There were two types of concoction; the one for drinking and the other for bathing. I did not drink the strong one; I drank the one they used to bath the witches and wizards. The witch-doctor in the small room determines which one to give you,” Jawo told the Commissioners.
He told the Commission nothing happened to him and after sometime, Solo Bojang asked him to go home.
“I am very sorry to the victims. I was also a victim – I was unlawfully dismissed from the police. Those were hard times,” he said.
“Yahya Jammeh was wrong. I was wrong, but never again will such things happen again. The exercise was imposed on the police by Yahya Jammeh, but we are saying ‘never again’ as the TRRC slogan depicts,” he said.