By Mariama Marong
Essa Sowe, a policeman working at the Anti-Crime Unit of the Gambia Police Force on Tuesday, 14 March gave evidence in the sedition trial involving one Omar Kujabi, alias Baitullah Junior.
The prosecution tendered the cautionary and voluntary statements of Baitullah Junior through this witness. Baitullah Junior is a resident of Kafuta and an arch support of former President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh. The Quranic teacher is famous for his expressions over the social media criticizing the regime.
Baitullah Junior acclaimed this name from one Omar Sanneh, Baitullah. Baitullah Omar Sanneh is on exile after he was arrested and prosecuted at the Brikama Magistrate’s Court for his expressions over the social media. He jumped bail hence living in Senegal. Both Baitullah’s are widely followed in the Gambia for their daily publications via WhatsApp.
The resident of Sukuta said he came to know Baitullah Junior after his arrest and was brought to the Anti-Crime Unit, Bajulunding Village. The witness said he cannot recall the date of the arrest but the arrest and detention was in connection to some audios he made over the social media. The witness said he was the one who took the statements of Baitullah Junior.
The said he obtained the cautionary statement of the accused person (Baitullah Junior) in the presence of an independent witness named Mamudou Ceesay, a resident of Bajulunding.
Sowe said he cautioned the accused person that he has the right to remain silent or anything he said may be used against him in a court of law. He added that Baitullah Junior chose to speak. He explained that the accused person chose to speak in Mandinka and English.
“I recorded his statement, when this was done, I read the statement to him and he agreed to the statement. He (Omar Kujabi) was given the opportunity to read the statement by himself and he was satisfied with the content and he thumb printed the statement. The independent witness signed it and I endorsed it with my details as the one who recorded the statement,” he said.
He said he proceeded to obtain the voluntary statement of Baitullah Junior just like the steps used in obtaining the cautionary statements. The witness informed the court that Baitullah Junior denied engaging in any seditious act. He testified further that two other additional voluntary statements were obtained from Baitullah Junior but on different dates. He stated that the same procedure was used like before to obtain statement from the accused person for the allegations that he published false news with the intent to cause fear and threatening violence. He said Baitullah Junior denied both charges.
Lawyer Lamin J. Darboe did not object to the admissibility of the voluntary statements. He only objected to the admissibility of the cautionary statement saying there was no independent witness present at the time of recording the statement. The lawyer further submitted that the accused person was not authorize to write his own statement despite the fact that he is a person who write. He urged the court to reject the cautionary statement.
State counsel N. Koita said the objection by Defence Counsel Darboes was baseless there was an independent witness.
Justice Ebrima Jaiteh in his ruling referred the case to ‘voir dire’ meaning trial within a trial. This means the main suit will be suspended while the court sit to establish whether there was an independent witness or not and to further establish the manner which the statement was taken. The Judge called on the State to bring their claimed independent witness for the mini trial.
The case was adjourned to the 20th March 2023 for the trial within a trial.
Baitullah Junior was a member of the Gambia Armed Forces and after his discharged, he became a marabout. He was posted at the Farafenni Barracks as a cadet officer. He attended several training on weapons and mines in England from 2008 to 2010. After he was verbally dismissed from military service for lack of proper documents, Baitullah Junior devoted his life in pursuit of Qurantic knowledge and was also engaged in politicking for former President Yahya Jammeh.
According to the prosecution, Omar is a strong supporter of Former President Yahya Jammeh and he released WhatsApp audios around October 2022 after the death of the 69 children from AKI. In the first audio, the prosecution alleged that he was calling for people to come and to massively protest against the government if they fail to tackle the death of 69 children. Also, the prosecution alleged that Baitullah Junior threatened that President Barrow must step down to pave way for former President Jammeh to come back and assume office.
In his second audio, the prosecution alleged that he asked President Barrow to vacate office and went further to threaten police officers.
In his third and final audio, the prosecution alleged that Omar realized his mistake and apologized to President Barrow and his servicemen and to all Gambians. He also vowed not to engage in any political dealings, but while at a naming ceremony in Sotokoi village on the 7th November 2022, he was arrested by the Anti-Crime Unit of the Gambia Police Force.
Acccording to the particulars of the offences, the prosecution alleged that Omar Kujabi sometimes in September and October 2022, at Kafula Village and diverse places in West Coast Region of with seditions intention made several WhatsApp audios calling on the people to go out to the streets and march to the State House in order to unlawfully remove the government of President Adama Barrow.
Also, the prosecution alleged that Omar Kujabi sometimes September and October 2022 at Kafuta Village made WhatsApp audio calling for the unlawful removal of President Adama Barrow and which statement was meant to bring into hatred, contempt and to excite disaffection against the person of the President Adama Barrow.
The prosecution alleged that Baitullah Junior also with intent to intimidate and annoy threatened to assault officers of the Police Intervention Unit who were send to arrest.
Furthermore, the prosecution alleged that Baitullah Junior did publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public and the released of WhatsApp audios calling for unlawful takeover of the government President Adama Barrow and the state.
The prosecution alleged that Baitullah Junior used WhatsApp audio, an internet platform to threaten to assault officers of the Police Intervention Unit for providing security to President Adama Barrow