By Baba Sheriff Bojang in Celle, Germany
The trial of former Gambian hit squad driver, Bai Lowe, resumed on Monday at a court in German city of Celle, 42km north of Hanover with the eldest son of murdered journalist Deyda Hydara taking the stand.
Lowe, 46, is on trial facing three charges of crimes against humanity as a member of the Junglers hit squad that carried out systematic killings and tortures allegedly on the orders of former president Yahya Jammeh.
German authorities arrested Lowe in Hanover where he was resident last year and citing universal jurisdiction, slammed the charges of participating in the 2004 murder of Deyda Hydara; driving Junglers to kill opposition politician Dawda Nyassi in 2006; and the attempted assassination of lawyer Ousman Sillah.
In a daylong testimony on Tuesday, Baba Hydara, 45, a joint plaintiff in the case, recounted the harrowing details of the killing of his father and the traumatic impact it had on the family.
He stated: “It was on 16 December 2004. I was in Paris studying at the time. That evening I received a call from my sister Marie Pierre crying inconsolably and said ‘They have killed dad’. I was distraught and confused because I never thought such a think could happen in The Gambia. It took me hours before I could come back to my senses…
“Our father was the sole breadwinner. My sister and I were abroad studying. Even before his death, the newspaper business was in financial straitjacket. It was his income from AfP, RSF and others that was helping. So the family was in financial dire straits after his death. I had to drop out of school and take up lodging with Maison des Journalistes in Paris. Luckily for my sister she got British citizenship.
“Our mother was in The Gambia and she would openly castigate the president and fearing for her safety, we took her to England. My younger brother Ismaila had to relocate to the US. The family scattered. Once I travelled to Dakar but I was detained at the airport because the Senegalese secret service told me they were apprehensive about my activities in the country and I had to return to Paris.”
He said the pain and anger resulting from his father’s killing is still fresh and that it was not until this year that his two brothers Ismaila and Deyda Jnr visited the country while his mother and sister are yet to do so.
Baba Hydara said together with Lèonard Vincent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), campaigns and investigations into the murder of his father were waged. “There were rumours and one name kept being mentioned: Sanna Manjang (a member of the Junglers hit squad. It was later on we started hearing other names like Malick Jatta. I later heard that a person [Bai Lowe] had an interview with Pa Nderry M’Bai [of Freedom Radio] but I did not and never wanted to listen to it… It was after the TRRC (Truth Commission) that we really knew what happened. It was more than one person; there was Oya [Omar A Jallow] and Malick Jatta confessing about participating in the crime, and from their accounts, we had a fuller picture of what happened that night.”
Quest for justice
Baba Hydara said finding justice for his father and the other victims of former president Yahya Jammeh’s brutality has become his life’s goal.
“I have dedicated my life to the quest for justice. I am compelled to do it. When I returned to The Gambia, I realised my family was not the only one victimised. So I joined others to set up the Victims’ Centre. This trial is a first step in that quest for justice. What is happening here will resonate in The Gambia and throughout the world and will demonstrate that impunity will not stand. Eighteen years after my father’s murder, this is the first time I am in a courtroom to have justice. This is the start but we will make sure it will not be the end of our quest for justice.”
Asked by the judges his views about the willingness of the government of The Gambia to prosecute perpetrators as recommended by the TRRC and endorsed in the government white paper, Baba Hydara, said: “Accepting does not mean you are going to implement. That is why we the victims are doing everything in our power to ensure that the government does as it promises.”
During the hearings, Bai Lowe who remains under custody was present with his lawyers. On Monday a Mr D’Angelo from the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees who interviewed Lowe during his asylum case hearing testified.
He recounted what Lowe told him about how he was recruited as a member of the Junglers; the operations he participated in; how he left the army; ended up in Germany; and his exposés on Gambian online radios.
A Gambian resident in Hanover, Bakary Sanyang a native of Faraba, Kombo East, who assisted Lowe settle in Germany, also testified and told the court what the former Jungler driver told him about his involvement in the operations of the hit squad.
A family member and a friend of Sanyang’s were killed by Jammeh’s men and he subsequently became a vocal opponent of the president. He said he befriended Lowe to understand how the Junglers were thinking and said Lowe showed remorse for his involvement in the atrocities.
Of recent, prosecutors have become proactive in prosecuting under Germany’s universal jurisdiction law, persons resident in Germany accused of having committing heinous crimes in their countries of origin.
Recently, a former Islamic State member, a Syrian doctor and member of the Middle Eastern country’s secret police were convicted for such crimes.
The Bai Lowe trial is expected to continue into next year.