By Reed Brody,
human rights activist
The first trial ever of one of Yahya Jammeh’s “Jungler” hit squad members began yesterday, not in a Gambian courtroom or an international tribunal but in a regional court in the sleepy German town of Celle.
The defendant Bai L, 46, entered the courtroom in a black-hooded winter parka holding a folded green cardboard sheet in front of his face until the cameras lined up to take his picture have departed. He then sat forward facing the five judges, apparently never turning to look at Baba Hydara sitting three meters to his right, the joint plaintiff in the prosecution and the son of the outspoken newspaper editor Deyda Hydara, in whose murder Bai is accused of taking part.
For 25 minutes, the German prosecutor read out the charges against Bai including as well the murder of Dawda Nyassi and the attempted murder of Lawyer Ousman Sillah. According to the prosecutor, the Junglers, – which she described as the “presidential death squad” – carried out the Hydara killing “by order of Yahya Jammeh.” As Baba Hydara listened attentively through headphones which rendered the proceedings alternately in English and in Wolof, the prosecutor described in detail how the Junglers shot his father to death.
The first witness, Gereon Detmar, the police investigator in charge of the case, described how the authorities were first tipped off to Bai’s presence on German soil by an inquiry in 2014 from the FBI, which was looking for witnesses in an American investigation. In 2017, they were again alerted, this time by the Swiss authorities who were building the case against Jammeh’s former interior minister Ousman Sonko and who had translated Bai’s two 2013 interviews with Pa Nderry Mbai of Freedom Radio and with Fatu Camara of the Fatu network in which Bai described his participation in the crimes alleged as well as in the killing of the 59 West African migrants and other murders. The police then looked up Bai’s 2013 application for asylum in Germany in which he talked about the same crimes. It was after reading all these interviews that the police upgraded its “observation” of Bai to a formal “investigation,” and the case began in earnest.
The trial is scheduled to last several months, perhaps a year.