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German court sentences Gambian death squad member to life in prison

A German court sentenced a Gambian man to life in prison over his participation in a death squad that assassinated opponents of former dictator Yahya Jammeh.

A German court on Thursday sentenced a Gambian man to life in prison over his participation in a death squad that assassinated opponents of former dictator Yahya Jammeh, including an AFP journalist.

Bai Lowe was convicted of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder for his role as a driver for the hit squad known as the Junglers.

He was convicted after a trial that rights groups and family members said was just a small step in the long road towards justice for the victims of Jammeh’s regime.

Lowe, who denied the charges against him, shook his head as the sentence was read out by the judge at the court in the northern town of Celle.

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The Junglers unit was “used by the then-president of The Gambia to carry out illegal killing orders, among other things” with the aim of “intimidating the Gambian population and suppressing the opposition”, according to prosecutors.

The list of crimes included the 2004 killing of AFP correspondent Deyda Hydara, who was gunned down in his car on the outskirts of the Gambian capital Banjul on December 16, 2004.

Lowe was found to have acted as a driver for the unit and to have helped stop Hydara’s car on the night of the murder.

Hydara’s son, Baba Hydara, who was in attendance at the court said that while the ruling was an “important day” for the victims of Jammeh’s government, it was “just a start”.

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“We have more fights, we have more challenges, trials and tribulations to achieve our goal and our main goal is to get the one who was giving the orders,” he told AFP.

Journalist killing

Hydara was an editor and co-founder of the independent daily The Point and a correspondent for AFP for over 30 years.

The father-of-four also worked as a Gambia correspondent for the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and was considered a doyen among journalists in the tiny West African state.

In The Point, he wrote a widely read column, “Good morning, Mr President”, in which he expressed his views on Gambian politics.

As well as having a role in Hydara’s killing, prosecutors accuse Lowe of involvement in the attempted assassination of lawyer Ousman Sillah, and the murder of Dawda Nyassi, a suspected opponent of the president.

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The ruling against Lowe was “the first time a court has recognised that crimes against humanity were committed by Yahya Jammeh”, Hydara’s lawyer Patrick Kroker said.

The proceedings were held in Germany on the basis of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed.

Judge Ralf Guenther said the Gambian government had not responded to a request for legal assistance from the German court.

The court had however been able to reach its verdict on evidence against Lowe, including photos found showing him in military uniform and a radio interview given by the suspect in 2013 to a US-based Gambian radio station.

‘Detailed account’

In the interview, Lowe gave a “detailed account of the planning and execution” of the crimes that indicated he was speaking from memory.

Lowe previously said he had been convinced by the interviewer to pose as a member of the death squad, repeating what other people had told him about to illustrate the cruelty of Jammeh’s government.

Jammeh ruled Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years but fled the country in January 2017 after losing a presidential election to relative unknown Adama Barrow.

Jammeh refused to acknowledge the results but was forced out by a popular uprising and fled to Equatorial Guinea.

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“Today’s verdict is a small step on the path for complete justice for the crimes of Yahya Jammeh’s regime,” said Reed Brody, a lawyer with the International Commission of Jurists who works with Jammeh’s victims.

Related trials were upcoming elsewhere, he said, adding that “most importantly, the Gambian government appears committed, at long last, to naming a special prosecutor and setting up a special international court to bring to justice Yahya Jammeh himself and his worst killers.”

Former interior minister Ousman Sonko has been under investigation in Switzerland since 2017, and another alleged former Jungler, Michael Sang Correa, was indicted in June 2020 in the United States.

The Gambian government said earlier this year it was working with the regional ECOWAS bloc to set up a tribunal to try crimes committed under Jammeh.

– By: © Agence France-Presse

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