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AG says president can pardon any prisoner regardless of crime committed

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By Tabora Bojang

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow told lawmakers that he cannot question President Adama Barrow’s decision to pardon prisoners because he has powers to do so regardless of crimes committed by offenders.

In January, President Barrow used his powers to pardon 37 prisoners from the country’s correctional centres. The pardoned convicts include former permanent secretary Dr Bamba Banja who was doing time for corruption, and others jailed for rape and murder.

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Several complaints about the pardons have been raised by the human rights commission, rights activists and civil society organisations who labeled them as appalling.

Appearing at parliament yesterday, Minister Jallow faced a barrage of questions with several lawmakers led by Bakau NAM Assan Touray asking him to explain the rationale behind pardoning “hardened criminals convicted of rape and murder whilst there are inmates of lesser crimes still being held behind bars”.

In response, the justice minister said: “The [1997] Constitution gives the president the power to pardon prisoners regardless of the offence committed. Over the years prisoners who committed capital offences including rape were not considered for pardon. However, in 2023 the Prerogative of Mercy Committee considered pardoning prisoners by imposing guidelines and conditions upon which prisoners will be pardoned. These include pardoning prisoners who have no pending appeal and served a minimum of ten years in prison and are of good behaviour during the period. The committee also ensured that consent of victims or victims’ families were sought and obtained prior to release.”

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The Bakau NAM further asked the minister if he had advised the president against pardoning such high crime convicts, but the minister said he “cannot give any advice contrary” to the “supreme law” of The Gambia.

“The people of The Gambia through the constitution gave the president unfettered powers to grant pardons irrespective of the crimes committed. That is the constitutional prerogative given to the president,” he argued.

Minister Jallow also faced questions about the composition of the committee and the criteria used in selecting convicts.

He said the convicts were recommended by a committee chaired by himself as the justice minister, representatives of the Supreme Islamic Council, Christian Council and the Department of Social Welfare.

“We have looked at various sets of guidelines. For capital offences the minimum you should serve is ten years before you are considered for a pardon.  And all those pardoned have served more than ten years. We also take into context the behaviour, health grounds and consent of families. The Department of Social Welfare was assigned and they contacted the victims and the victim’s families,” he explained.

Bakary Kora of Upper Fulladu asked the minister to state if he thought it would be ideal for the government to inform the public about its intent to consider granting pardon to prisoners including those jailed for capital offences before they are released, to which Minister Jallow replied: Honourable Speaker, he is asking about my opinion. If I should answer this question, I will be expressing an opinion.”  The speaker ruled in his favour and the question was not addressed.

Lawmakers also raised concerns about whether the vetting for the appointment of members of the prerogative of mercy committee by the president are subject to parliament’s confirmation.

Banjul South representative Touma Njie commented that in her tenure as a parliamentarian, she was never privy to any parliamentary sessions about confirmation of members to the said committee.

Serekunda’s Musa Cham asked whether the committee would have the authority to pardon prisoners if appointments [to the committee] were done by the president without parliamentary confirmation.

Minister Jallow replied: “That is a legal question that will require deep analysis that I would not be able to give now.”

He said he is making efforts to understand how the current appointments were made since the committee has been in existence since 1998.

On lifting bans

In response to a question from Banjul North NAM Bah about the president’s decision to lift ban from holding public office for Momodou Sabally, Njogu Bah, Amadou Colley, Sirra Wally-Ndow and others, Jallow responded: “The decision of the president to lift the ban on public officials who were banned pursuant to the Janneh Commission Report was done pursuant to the amendment of the Commission of Inquiry Act passed by this National Assembly in December [2023]. I cannot question the prerogative of the president to grant pardon…due processes were followed for him to grant the said pardons.”

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