28 January 2013

Gambia: Court Martial Convicts 2 Soldiers Await Sentencing Today

The three member military panel namely; Colonel Paul S. Gomez, as President of Court, Captain Abdoulie Sarr and Lieutenant Oumie Saine, with Justice Mikailu Abdullahi presiding as the Judge Advocate, on Friday 25 January, found guilty two soldiers that are on trial before the Court Martial, namely; Sergeant Manlafi Jarju on all four count charges against him and Corporal Karamo Jatta on the one count charge against him.

The duo was convicted for abusing their subordinates at The Gambia Armed Forces School (GAFTS), during the recruitment of intake 30 in 2009. However, the President of the Court, after announcing the verdict adjourned till today Monday 28 for sentencing.

Before summarising the evidence of both the Prosecution and Defence adduced before the Court, Justice Mikaili Abdullahi read Section 134 of the Armed Forces Act that the Judge Advocate shall summarise the evidence and give advice on it. He read out the four count charge against the first accused and the single count against the second accused. He indicated that for the prosecution to prove their case, they called 3 witnesses, Sona Badjie, Sona Jammeh and Sergeant Buba Camara and then summarised all their evidence-in-chief and under cross examination.

Justice Mikailu also summarized the evidence of all the 8 defence witnesses, Sergeant Manlafi Jarju, Wo2 Mamadi Faye, Corporal Sora Gibba, Sergeant Sutay Tamba, Sergeant Adama Jatta Camara, Corporal Karamo Jatta, Lance Corporal Baboucarr Manjang and Private Jarra Sowe.

He also summarised the oral addresses filed before the Court by Counsels Borry S. Touray, for the first accused person Sergeant Jarju; Edrissa M. Sissoho for the second accused, Corporal Jatta and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), for the State. He indicated that the two soldiers are charged for abuse of subordinates under section 59 of the Armed Forces Act, of which if convicted can be sentenced to 2 years imprison or less, disgraced or dismissed from the Armed Forces and if not guilty shall be acquitted and discharged. He stated that the element of offences charged should be proved by prosecution that the accused persons are soldiers and the complainants are subordinates to them. He said both Sona Badjie and Sona Jammeh laid evidence that they are soldiers and both accused persons are soldiers of The Gambia Armed Forces' Training School, (GAFTS).

Justice Mikailu posited that all defence witnesses indicated before the Court that they are all colleagues of the accused persons at GAFTS; adding that, that evidence was not controverted by the accused persons. He added that they both admitted that they are instructors at GAFTS. He posited that both Sona Badjie and Sona Jammeh are soldiers and Sergeant Jarju and Corporal Jatta are instructors and the two Sonas are subordinates to them. He added that Sona Badjie said she was slapped by Corporal Jatta which was confirmed by Sona Jammeh and corroborated by Sergeant Buba Camara.

Justice Mikailu said he found the evidence of corroboration to each of the evidence adduced by Sona Badjie and Sona Jammeh, adding that the minor differences between their evidence can best be regarded as discrepancy. He indicated that the evidence of a single witness cannot be relied on unless it needs corroboration. He asserted that the DPP indicated in his address that the defence witnesses are tainted witnesses and they are only obliged to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt and not beyond all shadow of doubt. He then gave a legal definition of a tainted witness and noted that the Court has observed the evidence of defence witnesses and they all stated that they are instructors at GAFTS with the accused persons at the same time. He asserted that the DPP noted in his address that the defence witnesses that gave evidence in favour of their colleagues as instructors and that they all came to Court to serve a purpose in defence of their colleagues.

Justice Mikailu pointed out that the evidence laid by prosecution is direct evidence and was corroborated by Sona Badjie, Sona Jammeh and Sergeant Buba Camara. He concluded that the prosecution is in no position to prove the case beyond all shadow of doubt.

The Court went for a break for the Judge and the Military panelists to advice themselves for the verdict. Almost about half an hour, Colonel P.S. Gomez, as the President of Court Martial announced the verdict as follows; "Sergeant Jarju Manlai, you are found guilty on counts 1, 2, 3 and 4 and you are convicted to the approval of convening authority". "Corporal Jatta Karamo, you are found guilty on count 5 and the conviction is subject to the approval of convening authority".

There was murmuring and noises from all angles of the Courtroom filled to capacity mostly by soldiers and families of the accused persons.

Lawyer Edrissa M. Sissoho mitigated on behalf of the 2 convicts and urged the Court to temper justice with mercy and not to impose a custodial sentence on the accused men. Sissoho told the Court that Sergerant Jarju has served GAF for 16 good years with dedication and loyalty and has been at the training school for more than 4 years with a clean record throughout. He said what happened is an aberration and not intentional. He added that Srgeant Jarju is a young man married with 4 children.

Lawyer Sissoho also urged the Court to temper justice with mercy on Corporal Karamo Jatta for he has served GAF for 11 years with unblemished service to the nation. He added that Sergeant Jatta was sent to Turkey to do a junior officers course of which he came with a distinction, citing section 126 of the Armed Forces Act to only impose a reprimand on him.

At this point, Colonel Gomez adjourned the matter till today for the accused persons to know their fate.

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