Judge sets Gunjur six free, as State fails to prove case
Gunjur Environmentalists and activists arrested and charged for removing a waste pipeline connected from the premises of Golden Lead, a fish meal processing plant into the sea at Gunjur beach have all been acquitted and discharged by a magistrates court in the Gambian city of Brikama.
According to the presiding magistrate, Alhagie Bojang, Ousman Sanneh, Lamin Jassey, Amasou Scattred Janneh, Omar Darboe and Foday Karl Darboe had "no case " to answer as prosecutors failed to prove case beyond reasonable doubt.
Photo: Alhagie Bojang, Ousman Sanneh, Lamin Jassey, Adadou S Janneh, Omar Darboe and Foday Karl Darboe
The Gunjur six as they are commonly known appeared before a magistrate at the Brikama Magistrates Court on Thursday for the verdict of the court on the criminal trespass charges brought against them by the Inspector General of police some six months ago.
The six activists were charged with THREE counts offence of; 1. Conspiracy to commit a felony, contrary to section 368 of the Criminal Code Cap 10.01 Vol. iii 2. Criminal trespass, contrary to section 285 (A) of the Criminal Code Cap 10.01Vol iii 3. Wilful damage to property, contrary to section 312 (1) of the Criminal Code Cap 10.01 Vol ¡¡¡ Laws of the Gambia 2009.
It could be recalled that Alhagie Bojang, Omar Darboe, Lamin Jassey, Foday Karl Darboe, and Ousman Sanneh were arrested and arraigned at the Brikama Magistrates court on 30th May 2018 where all pleaded NOT guilty of all charges. The sixth accused, Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh was said to be out of the jurisdiction of the courts and was charged in absentia. The matter was then adjourned to 5th June and presided over by Magistrate Omar Cham.
Former Police Inspector Darboe made case for incarceration of Gunjur environmentalists
Prosecution Witness (1) Bakary Dembo Darboe; who is a former Police Inspector and now the General Manager of Golden Lead testified and gave evidence where he called for the incarceration of the activists for wilful damage to private property and criminal trespass. During a cross examination by prosecutor Mballow, Bakary Demo Darboe was asked:
Questioning the witness, prosecutor Mballow queried: “NEA did not remove the pipe, Mr Darboe can you tell the court what happened to those pipes? Darboe replied: “It was after the approval from the NEA that a group of young people came to the factory with digging equipment and started digging out the pipes. Your worship all those accused persons were actively cooperating in the removal of those pipes forcefully. They failed to give thought to their conscience for the damage. As the general manager of Golden Lead, I told them to stop because Golden Lead is no longer using those pipes. I pointed out the pipe to them that we were using instead.” Prosecutor Mballow further asked: “Mr Darboe tell the court where were those pipes fitted in? Witness Dembo Darboe: “ from inside of the factory into the beach” Prosecutor Mballow: Mr Darboe tell the court how do they have the access to these pipes?
Witness Dembo Darboe ploughed on: “They have spades and other materials digging and disconnecting them where they were joined from the outside of the factory up to the sea .” Further giving evidence, Mr Darboe indicated that he recognised the first accused person Alhagie Bojang who was instructing the youths to dig out the pipes. Also among the crowd, the witness told the court he recognised the fourth accused person Foday Karl Darboe whom he accused of motivating the youths by buying and giving them bottled water to drink as they carried out the digging of their pipes.
Following several adjournments and posting of bail in the sum of D500K with surrender of passports, the case was finally scheduled for ruling on Thursday, 27th December for ruling where a “no case “ to answer verdict was returned.
Reacting to the acquittal and discharge of the accused, Omar Darboe had this to say:
“First of all I would say Alhamdulillah 3x the truth has finally prevailed and I wish to sincerely extend my sincere thanks to the people and institutions who stood by us during the trying time. I feel thankful and excited about the verdict given by the magistrate which demonstrated that the Gambia has changed for good and the judiciary is fully free and independent which is expected from any responsible government. Finally I would like to advise all the authorities to fully scrutinise any foreign investors trying to establish in the country they should not only look into the financial gains but also look into the best interest of the communities.”
Golden Lead owners planted a Chinese flag at Gunjur beach following the arrest of the activists as they lay new waste pipes to continue disposing toxic factory waste into the sea
Ahmed Manjang, Saudi Arabia based environmental activist who supported and campaigned against the arrest and charging of the activists declared after the verdict.
“The Gambia government entered into an out of courts settlement with Golden Lead Fishmeal factory after they were dragged to court by the NEA for series of environmental violations, When this agreement was made, the primary stakeholders were never consulted. After the out of court settlement, GL resumed operations without implementing any of the conditions stipulated in the out of court settlements. In August 2017, environmental groups in Gunjur filed a lawsuit against GL at the High Courts. Unfortunately, the matter is still dragging at the courts. While we welcome this development today, we renew our resolve to continue to fight for environmental justice along the Kombo coast. We are putting the Gambia government on notice that we will not be intimidated by their bullying tactics. We welcome all forms of investment, but we will never comprise our environment and livelihood. We shall continue to follow the due process, but if our legal efforts are frustrated, we will not hesitate to use other means to stop blatant injustice.”
The six activists celebrated the verdict by visiting Gunjur beach where they patriotically raised the Gambian flag in defiance.