7 January 2013

Gambia: Two Female Soldiers Testify At Court Martial Allege Severe Beating and Maltreatment

Two Female private soldiers of The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), Sona Badjie and Sona Jammeh, on Monday 31 December 2012, testified before a Court Martial taking place at the Yundum Barracks involving 2 members of the Army and the State. The 2 female soldiers testified as prosecution witnesses (PW 1 and 2) and alleged severe beating and abuses from the hands of their instructors,

Sergeant Manlafi Jarju and Corporal Karamo Jatta during their training in 2009. The 2 soldiers who are currently under detention at the Yundum Barracks, are jointly charged with abusing their subordinates at the GAF training school.

Giving evidence under cross examination and speaking in Mandinka, Private Sona Badjie was asked by defence counsel Edrisa Sissoho to produce her appointment letter by GAF to the Court which she did.

The letter was tendered without any objection from the State counsel and marked as defence exhibit.

Private Badjie told the Court that after receiving the said appointment letter, she took it home and upon arrival she read the contents. She said she could not recall the date she reported to the training school at Fajara Barracks. She said she could not also remember the date or the time frame within which their training started. She said she could not also tell whether their training started in May, June or July of 2009, as suggested by counsel Sissoho.

Sissoho asked: "Private, Did you remember complying with the terms and conditions of the appointment letter?" Private Badjie said, "I cannot remember that". There was general murmuring within the Court room filled with officers, soldiers and people in civil clothes. Sissoho asked: Private Sona Badjie, "Can you read out the content of the letter?" Badjie paused for a while and said, "No I can't read it".

There was general laughter and murmuring from all angles of the Court. Within seconds, she reversed and said: "I can read it but I will not do it". Sissoho said, Can i read it for you?" Private Badjie said, "That is not necessary for I can read it myself, but I will not do it" There was more murmuring, laughter and whistling. However she refused to hand over the letter to counsel Sissoho claiming that the document is her property.

At this point ,Judge Advocate, Justice Mikailu Abdullah intervened and urged Private Badjie to hand over the document to counsel Sissoho. Justice Mikailu advised her to behave with respect in Court. He said: "This is not the barracks, but a law Court, don't you know you can be forced to read the letter." The President of the Court Colonel Gomez demanded her to read the letter, but she insisted that she would not and did not.

Counsel Sissoho said, "Can I have the letter to read it for you?" Private Badjie said: "No". Justice Mikailu frowned and ordered her to hand over the letter to Sissoho. He strictly told her that the letter is now under the custody of the Court and not her. Lawyer Sissoho stood up and opined that Private Badjie should be charged with contempt of Court for lack of respect to the Court. Before the Court could act on Sissoho's request, Badjie reluctantly handed over the letter to him. He read out the content of the letter and asked Badjie whether she has reported to Fajara Barracks on 14 April 2009, as stated in the letter. She responded in the positive, but said she could not remember the date of commencement of training.

Sissoho asked: "When did you first meet the first accused person?" She said, "I did not know who the first accused person is". The interpreter told her that the first accused person is Sergeant Manlafi Jarju and the second accused is Corporal Karamo Jatta. She later said, "It was when we were divided into companies". Sissoho asked: "Did you meet the second accused at the same time?" Witness answered in the negative. She said she met with Corporal Jatta at their parade when he came to enquire about her, but said she could not remember if that was the first or second week of their training. Sissoho asked, "When and where did the second accused assault you?" Badjie said, "It was at the parade, he asked me to see him and when I went he slapped me, but I cannot remember the date and time".

Sissoho said: "I put it to you that you cannot remember the date and time of the incident because it never happens". Private Badjie said, "It is something that has happened, I'm not lying". Sissoho said, "I put it to you that Jatta was never part of your company, instead you are only accusing him". Badjie said, "He was part of it and I did not accuse him falsely, what happened is what I am saying". Sissoho said, "I further put it to you that all what you said here is a total fabrication and full of lies". Badjie said, "It is only the truth I say here". Sissoho said, I put it to you that Jatta as a junior soldier never enters senior non Commissioned Officers' room". Badjie said, "That is where I met him at the breakfast place". Sissoho said, "I put it to you that the two accused persons never slapped or beat you on your buttocks". Badjie said, "They did, why would i lie if they did not do it?". Sissoho said, "If this incident did happen you would have recorded the dates and reported it to the seniors". Badjie said, "As a recruit you would not have the audacity to report an instructor to seniors". Sissoho ask, "Do you know SOP?" Badjie answered in the negative. There was a long murmuring within the Court. Lawyer Sissoho then said, "Are you saying you did not know the Standing Operational procedures?" Badjie said, "I did not know that?" There was more murmuring and laughter within the Court as the State witness ended her evidence and demanded from the Court her appointment letter and insisted that she has to take it back with her. She was told the letter was now under the Court and not her. She reluctantly walked out of the Court room with a frowning face.

The second witness is Sona Jammeh, (PW2) she spoke in the Jola language through an interpreter and told the Court that she knew the first witness Sona Badjie during school days and at the Army. She said she recognised the accused persons and knew them at the GAF training school. She said at one point during their training while she was fingering her cell phone it went loud and one Jarra Sowe told her that she [Jammeh] is very ugly. She said she responded to Jarra that the issue is not about being beautiful or ugly, but is because she [Jarra) has a boy friend within. She stated that the following day Jarra reported her to Corporal Adama Jatta and Adama also reported the matter to Sergeant Manlafi Jarju to beat her. She alleged that Sergeant Jarju took her to a room where he gave her a hundred strokes on her buttocks. She said that she was never told of the reason for the beating.

She indicated that after that incident, during training in the bush, Sergeant Jarju paraded all the recruits and asked them about the attitude of Sona Badjie (PW1) and she said she told him she knows nothing about her and he slapped her. She posited that at the same time he also slapped Sona Badjie who ran for cover behind Sergeant Tamba. She asserted that after coming from the bush before taking their lunch, Sergeant Jarju ordered her and Sona Badjie to sing and dance and when they could not sing, he ordered the boys to sing for them while they dance. He said, "The boys sang 'Lombarr lombarr Narr' whilst I and Sona Badjie danced". She added that Sergeant Jarju protested that he was not impressed with their dance and ordered them to crawl on the ground and roll on their heads and was beating them until he was satisfied and asked them to stop.

When asked by the State counsel Miss Jobe to explain how "Lombarr lombarr narr" is danced, she said by bending down low and shaking the buttocks, sparking general laughter in Court.

Private Sona Jammeh adduced to the Court that a day before their passing out after the rehearsal parade and before taking bath, they were recalled by Sergeant Jarju to stand aside and when Sona Badjie asked him why they should stand aside, he slapped her. She said they were ordered by Jarju to crawl while he poured water on them until Mamadi Faye had to intervene and begged him to release them. She indicated that Sergeant Jarju threatened them that he would get the hell out of them and that would continue even after their passing out. She asserted that on that night, he ordered them to bring their camp beds outside and did not allow them to take bath. She alleged that even though they appealed for mercy to allow them to take bath, Jarju refused and ordered them to sleep without having their bath till the following morning.

At this point, the President of the Court Colonel Gomez announced the adjournment of hearing till today 2 January 2013, for continuation of evidence in chief.

The other panelists at Court include Captain Abdoulie Saine and Lieutenant Oumie Saine. The State is represented by Madam Jobe. The defence team is lawyer Borry S. Touray and Edrisa Sissoho, assisted by Lieutenant L.S. Darboe.

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