The Gambia's former spy chief sentenced to death for murder of political activist

Yankuba Badjie was the director of The Gambia’s now defunct National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Image by the Alkamba Times, used with permission.

This post first appeared in The Alkamba Times on July 14, 2022. This edited version is being republished on Global Voices under a content partnership agreement.

On July 13, a court in The Gambia's capital Banjul sentenced Yankuba Badjie, the former Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), to death for murder. Badjie and five others — Sheik Omar Jeng, Baboucarr Sallah, Tamba Masireh and Lamin Darboe — were found guilty of the murder of Ebrima Solo Sandeng at the NIA premises in Banjul seven years ago. Badjie headed the spy agency from December 2013 to 2016 under the dictatorship of former President Yahya Jammeh.

On April 14, 2015, Sandeng, who was the leader of the youth wing of the opposition United Democratic Party, led a peaceful opposition march for political reform. Sandeng was arrested alongside six UDP party members. In the ensuing hours, the UDP activists were severely tortured at the NIA intelligence headquarters. Sandeng died in custody, following what prosecutors described as severe and inhumane treatment by NIA operatives and members of a notorious hit squad called Junglers. Sandeng's death unleashed “a wave of anger” in Africa's smallest country, reports Al Jazeera.

The accused persons were found guilty on 25 counts levied by state prosecutors, ranging from conspiracy to commit murder, felony, grievous harm, concealment, forgery, and disobedience of statutory orders, amongst others.

Judgment ends a six-year trial

Ebrima Solo Sandeng died in custody, after inhumane torture by NIA operatives in 2015. Image by Alkamba Times, used with permission.

High Court Judge, Justice Kumba Sillah Camara, citing Section 188 of the criminal code and other laws of The Gambia, stated that the prosecution had satisfied the “burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” This, according to her, was achieved through material and corroborative evidence presented to the court depicting how the accused conspired and tortured Sandeng to death.

Justice Camara further told a packed courtroom that the accused persons fabricated a death certificate indicating that Sandeng died due to “shock and respiratory failure.” These critical sets of evidence set the basis that established the guilt of the accused persons in the concealment of murder. She revealed that evidence showed that the Junglers were responsible for the inhumane treatment meted on the victims. The judge adduced that Sheikh Omar Jeng and Yankuba Badjie were the main architects of excessive torture, which led to temporary and permanent damage to the surviving victims.

Spy chief Badjie and the four other former NIA intelligence operatives were equally sentenced to 5 to 10 years for various offenses set to run concurrently from the time spent in prison. The doctor Lamin Lang Sanyang was sentenced to 10 years for forgery. During the lengthy murder trial, which started in March 2017, another person accused, NIA's former deputy Director General and operation chief Leese Gomez, died, while another was withdrawn from the case. An additional defendant Haruna Suso was acquitted and discharged on all counts by the presiding judge.

Sandeng's family welcomes the verdict

Muhammed Sandeng, son of the late opposition leader, Solo Sandeng. Image by the Alkamba Times, used with permission.

The judgment was witnessed by a cross-section of people, including the family of the late Sandeng. Muhammed Sandeng, who led the advocacy to see his father's killers face justice, told Alkamba Times:

The judgment is quite diligently done, and the sentences are befitting. The perpetrators of the murder committed it with disdain and quite deliberately because they thought they were invincible until justice caught up with them. It signals that anybody holding power must not abuse power because the arms of justice are long.

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