They are, Lieutenant General Lang Tombong Tamba, the former chief of defence staff of the Gambia Armed Forces and Real Admiral Sarjo Fofana, the former navy chief.
The Supreme Court, in a decision yesterday set aside the judgments of the High Court and the Court of Appeal which affirmed the conviction passed on the two men by the trial court.
In its decision, the apex court held that the sentence on two counts of conspiracy to commit treason and treason was an inappropriate decision by the trial court presided by a high court judge, Emmanuel Ikpala.
Justice Jibou Semaga-Janneh, who read the lead judgement, also quashed the sentence on the grounds that the trial judge was ‘speculative’ to arrive to conclusion that the two men were guilty of treason.
He said the trial judge only relied on the evidence of Major Bah and the statement obtained from a treason convict Captain Yaya Darboe by state investigators in convicting Tamba and Fofana.
“The trial judge ignored the testimony of Yaya Darboe in considering the guilt of the appellants,” he said adding that was not in favour of the two men.
According to Justice Janneh, the trial judge should not have allowed the testimony of Captain Yaya Darboe who refused to swear on oath or be affirmed in court.
Justice Janneh further held: “There is no evidence on the count of conspiracy to commit treason and treason and I respectfully discharge them. The appeal of Major Sarjo Fofana is hereby allowed and he is acquitted and discharged. The appeal of Lt Gen Lang Tombong Tamba on counts one and two is hereby allowed and he is acquitted and discharged.”
Meanwhile, while the decision of the apex court yesterday left both men free on counts one and two related to conspiracy to commit treason and treason, Lt Gen Lang Tombong Tamba’s appeal on another two counts for concealment of treason was dismissed.
Justice Janneh said there was no ‘miscarriage’ of justice against Tamba on the 10 years imprisonment sentence on counts three and four related to concealment of treason. “The counts of concealment of treason are dismissed and the conviction of the court is affirmed,” Justice Janneh further held.
However, while all the other judges agreed with the decision to free the former top military officers on conspiracy to commit treason and treason, the chief justice, Ali Nawaz Chowhan who heads the panel of judges disagreed. “I do not agree with my brother that Lt Gen Lang Tombong Tamba should be discharged on counts one and two,” he said. On counts three and four, the chief justice said Lt Gen Tamba was aware of the coup plot. He said President Jammeh who was then in Mauritania was informed of the coup plot by another person. He held that Tamba should have informed President Jammeh who is the Commander-In-Chief of the Gambia Armed Forces. “His conduct shows that he wanted to take full advantage of the coup,’ the judge held.
It is recalled that during the trial in 2011, five state witnesses, including two former military men (Captain Yaya Darboe and Bunja Darboe) convicted by a military court in 2006 in connection with the said coup attempt appeared as state witnesses, but Bunja Darboe refused to testify. Major Bah, a military officer who had been sentenced to a 25-year jail term after he was found guilty of the said coup attempt – but later freed on a presidential pardon – had also testified as a state witness. Meanwhile, both men were put on chains with shackles and taken back to Mile 2 Central Prison with uniformed and un-uniformed state security personnel. The atmosphere which greeted Fofana’s freedom was cheerful. The former navy chief was joyful and teary. A crowd of relatives and sympathizers waved their hands up in acknowledgement saying justice has finally prevailed.]]>