By Yankuba Jallow
Awa Sanneh – Bittaye, a police officer has on Monday told the TRRC that she lost her first son as a result of April 2000 mass students’ demonstration. Awa appeared before the TRRC on Monday, 23rd September 2019
She said a large group of students attacked Kotu Police Station. She said the students were throwing stones at them, and one of the stones touched the right side of her rib when she was only 5 months pregnant and when she gave birth, she was told by the doctor that the child died as a result of the incident.
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) was established by an Act of the National Assembly to investigate the past human rights violations from 22nd July 1994 to January 2017.
The former firefighter turned police officer said she was enlisted in the Gambia Police Force (GPF) in 1997 after leaving the Gambia Fire and Rescue Services (GFRS). The Latrikunda German-born said on the 10th April 2000, she was at the Kotu Police Station on duties. She added that the incident happened after they have already taken their breakfast and were seated at the station doing their work. She explained that they heard the noise of the stones landing on the corrugated iron sheets of the station and when they came out to inquire, they realized that this was being done by students who were on demonstration. She added that in that crowd, there were people who weren’t students and were also throwing stones at the station.
She indicated that at the time of the stoning, both the station officer and his assistant were there.
She said Ensa Badjie, alias Jesus an ex-Inspector General of Police decided to step out to find out what was happening, but he later ran back into the station and told them that the students were demonstrating.
“They threw a stone which broke one of the glass doors and injured Ensa’s leg. Jesus told us to go under the counter because he wanted to protect us from the stones,” she said.
She said the crowd of students later outnumbered them and the majority of the police ran for their life. She said those left at the station were herself, Mbengeh Ceesay and one Sergeant Cham.
“We were not prepared for anything because we thought the students were only going to GTTI to express their grievances,” she said.
She told the Commission that a stone affected Mbengeh Ceesay, a police officer who was later admitted at Lamtoro Clinic. She said at that time of the incident, the police were not having enough gadgets to communicate which made it impossible for them to communicate to their seniors for aid.
She added that at that moment, they lacked protection gears to protect themselves. She said she had seen family members of one of the police officers jumping over the fence.
“I removed my uniform so that when I go out, the students won’t be able to recognize me as a police officer,” she said, adding that a boy poured fuel on her but she pushed him and sat on the ground.
She said the same boy took a stone and threw it at her.
“I also used foul language against the police to enable me to escape because at that time I was five-month pregnant. I felt some pain, but I was more concerned about my life,” she said.
She told the Commission that the students intended to burn the Station. She alleged that the students took some valuables from the police after breaking into the counter.
“I was about 21 to 22 years at the time of the incident,” she said.
On whether she knew what led to the aggression by the students, she responded in the negative.
She said she wasn’t able to move and she was transported to the Serrekunda Health Center and they were referred to the Accident and Emergency Ward of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital in Banjul.
She told the Commission that one Dr. Guard, an Egyptian doctor who was working at RVTH now EFSTH recommended that she should not work for three months neither should she do any heavy work.
She said in October 2000, when she gave birth the baby died and she said the doctor told her it was as a result of the stone that struck her rib.
She said it was painful because that was her first child, adding that ‘as a woman if you are married the only thing you wish for yourself is to get a child”.
“The promise of compensation was not fulfilled,” she said.
She said she never discussed with anyone concerning this issue, however, she continued to work for the police.