Gambia: Breaking News: Tortured Gambian Journalist Narrates His Ordeal!




Story of reference (Exile journalist)

I am a journalist by profession working with Foroyaa Newspaper since 2011 and a part time radio and TV presenter with privately owned media institutions, Star FM and Eye Africa TV online channel. As a radio and TV journalist, I specialize on various areas, News reading, talk shows, entertainment, interviews and debate forums etc. As an investigative journalist, I have been reporting and gathering information on political and human rights issues in the Gambia.

mbenga foto of torturedAs an experienced freelance journalist, I was later promoted by my Editor-in-chief to a senior core reporter that parachutes within the various areas of coverage reporting both local and international levels and also the art and music columnist. I was an eye witness and one of the victims of the 14 and 16 April Peaceful demonstration in the Gambia, which was organized by the Gambians. I received a telephone call on 14 April 2016 around 1 PM from Mr. Sam Sarr, the Editor-in-chief of Foroyaa newspaper, who informed me that there is something happening at Serekunda Westfield.

As an investigative journalist, I rushed to enquire the situation and I witnessed Gambians gathering in large crowd, organizing a peaceful demonstration with was led by Ebrima Solo Sandeng. The theme of the protest was they were demanding a proper electoral reform which was written in a white cloth banner .

On 14 April, at Serekunda Westfield, around mid-sunny day at 1 PM, while on coverage reporting as a journalist in the line of duty, I started interviewing the protestors including Solo Sandeng, while taking pictures and videos of the demonstration.

The demonstration caused the arresting of dozens of youths, women, elders and including the youth leader Ebrima Solo Sandeng the organizing sectary of the United Democratic Party.

Solo Sandeng, who was later part of the arrestees was interviewed on the ground on the issue and the reason of organizing a peaceful demonstration, as they need a proper electoral reform, because they fell that they have been pushed into a corner, that the Gambia don’t have a genuine electronic system.                

I was the only journalist that interviewed Solo Sandeng and other protesters at Serekunda Westfield demonstration which was later published on the Foroyaa Newspaper on the following date, 15 April 2016.

Later run a deputy police commissioner in white uniform who came on foot in the crowd and wanted to arrest Solo Sandeng, the protesters denied him the access as they called for a unity with Solo, that if Solo will be arrested they shall be arrested too. Later  on, around 2 PM onwards , a security truck with the number plate G.P.F 19 MT with dozens of P.I.U officers  that  came with their security Platoons at the scene in Westfield and started maltreating them  and dozens were later arrested  and whistled away to the Police intervention unit(P.I.U) headquarters in Kanifing.
The same Police Commissioner, who first came in the scene to arrest Solo, while he was denied the access by the protestors, makes the alert to the police intervention officers about the scene.

The commissioner picks him secretly and then hires a yellow taxi by the number BJL 7678 C Benz and
whisked away Solo at the road of Kairaba Avenue. At the scene, some military officers in plainclothes and a pick up vehicle of police task force also joined the police intervention unit to arrest other protesters who fled away in the crowd to escape.
I was also been bitten by one P.I.U officer who was trying to stop and seize my phone from taking pictures, they even wanted to arrest me, but I managed to escape from them. Due to how I was maltreated by the security officers, later run around 8pm I collapsed due to internal pain and was admitted for a couple of hours at Serekunda hospital.

On Saturday, 16th of April 2016, The Gambians received the shocking news that youth leader and the organizing sectary of U.D.P Ebrima Solo Sandeng was tortured to death by the state security officers.
The U.D.P leader lawyer Ousainou Darboe on 16 April 2016 calls for a press conference at his residence in Pipeline to inform journalists, regarding the tragic death of Solo Sandeng and the situation of other arrestees while hundreds of awaited Gambians including Solo’s family members  that visited Darboe’s residence were curious about the  rumors and the sad news.

 Rumors circulated that Solo Sandeng, the organizing Sectary of UDP, was said to go on coma on Friday afternoon 15 April 2016, during the tortured session. He was not given any medical attention until he was later announced death.
Darboe further explains to journalists that he got reliable information that protesters were all arrested and taken to the headquarters of the Police intervention unit in Kanifing and from there, carted to mile two prison; where five of the arrestee were taken to the national intelligence agency office in Banjul.
These arrestee who were taken to NIA were subjected to the most brutal torture, Darboe also said that he got information that the director general of NIA Yankuba Badjie,  who got his hooligans drunk and ordered his agents to torture these freedom activists, who have done nothing illegal but to express their freedom of expression.
The rest of the detainees including the following UDP members were Fatoumata Jawara (Female Youth President), Fatou Camara, (Constituency Women’s Leader), Nokoi  Njie (2nd Vice President of the Women’s Wing) and Lang Marong (Deputy Campaign Manager).They were taken to Mile 2 Prison and later to the National Intelligence Agency for interrogation and they were physically and mentally tortured and they are in a critical poor health condition. Lawyer Darboe told journalists at the press conference.

After the press conference I received an international telephone call from a Senegalese radio station called R F.M, while I was corresponding with them regarding the current situation in the country. Ousainou Darboe and other politicians were subsequently arrested on Thursday 16 April 2016 around the FIB building in Kairaba Avenue when they took to the streets to protest.
During the demonstration regarding the arrest of Solo and others, they were shouting in sorrowful voices “Release Solo Sandeng dead or alive!”
Dozens of securities forces in their vehicles obstructed the demonstrators with their guns, batons and tear gases.
Lawer Darboe and the UDP front liners were later arrested, the crowd was also obstructed by the security, arresting, beating and firing tear gas on the demonstrators.
I was hit several times with a rifle butt by the personnel of the Police intervention unit during my coverage reporting while I was taking photos and videos of the scene at the protest in Kairaba Avenue and I suffered from fracture both my left shoulder and leg.

On 16 April at night, I got information from one of the secret agents; a friend who advises me to go out of the country because I was already wanted, some days later while I was taking local medical treatment because I fear to go to hospital. A week later on Saturday 23 April 2016 early in the morning around 5 AM, while I was traveling to Dakar for medical treatment and for better safety, I was intercepted by the security officers at the border point within Gambia and Senegal around 1 PM,  from where I was arrested and escorted with a tinted jeep. The leader of the arrest team was the station officer (S.O)  of Mansakonko police intervention unit by the name S.O Jammeh. I was taken to the PIU base in Mansakonko, where I was later escorted with  two arm PIU officers including the station officer and one plain cloth officer  that escorted and was whisked away to the National intelligence agency headquarters in Banjul.

We reached at the NIA head quarters in Banjul around 7 PM, where I was handed over to the agents. I was been clearly screened by the agents at the headquarters and later detained in a light detention cell with other detainees. At night around 10 PM, I was taken for interrogation at the office of the Director of operations by the name Sheikh Omar Jeng. Mr. Jeng, NIA operation Director questioned me during the interrogation session in his office. Jeng told me that they were been informed that I was involved in the protest and am carrying a lot of  information regarding  the protest and that I was trying to abscond to Senegal, while I also plan to report the challenges I encountered during the scene to the Senegalese media and to the international human rights organizations.

I was finally released the following day on Sunday 24 April 2016, around 3 PM, because there was no concrete evidence and due to my health condition as I was very sick working with a crochet and I was also bleeding. I knew that one day I will be arrested because I was a hard working investigative journalist that parachutes in all angles of politics and human rights issues. I also been received a lot of warning, advises from some of the security and after my release. I feel that my life is still in danger and I will be arrested again.

Later an undercover agent addresses me to move out of the country, because his colleagues will arrest me again. He also told me that am released because they fear that my health condition was not favorable to them and they want their institute to be clean on what happens to me at the protest zone on Monday 25 April 2016. I finally take the decision to flee the country to come to Senegal to seek for support and protection and I arrived on early Tuesday morning on 26 April 2016 around 5 AM.

Written By Mamour M Mbenga

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