26 May 2011

Gambia News: Lt. General Tamba Will Not ‘Die Twice’ But Queries Gambian Judiciary after Sentence

Daily News --Lt. Gen. Lang Tombong Tamba, former defence chief said, the Gambia’s judiciary needs to be looked into because he doesn’t deserve a sentence for a crime he did not commit.
Tamba’s query came after the Special Criminal Division of the High Court in Banjul found him and Sarjo Fofana, former navy chief guilty on all four counts of treason related charges, eventhough they had denied the charges.
In a suspense-filled climax of a courtroom saga that has obsessed the nation, the eleven month-long trial yesterday ended with a twenty year jail sentence handed down on both men.
Tamba and Fofana were sacked in October 2009 following which they were put under trial for a coup attempt which occurred in 2006.  
The atmosphere which greeted their conviction and sentence was both chaotic and somber.  The former army Lt general was uptight and teary, yet he unsuccessfully managed to calm down a more teary crowed of relatives and sympathisers.     
“I am prepared to die,” the General cried out, attracting the attention of a blend of uniformed and un-uniformed state security personnel who grabbed their former embattled boss with every strength of theirs, put him into the vehicle and whisked him away.
Denied the allegations
Lt Gen. Tamba, who was the deputy chief of defence staff at the time of the 2006 coup, was widely seen as a key figure in the foiling of the attempted coup in 2006 allegedly led by former defence chief, Col Ndure Cham, now in exile.
His lawyer, Sheriff Tambedou said, Tamba was promoted as Chief of Defence Staff and also decorated by the President with MRG because of efforts he did in foiling the 2006 coup attempt.
 “I did everything to foil the 2006 coup,” Tamba himself said, shaking his head after his conviction. “How can I be part of a coup which I foiled.”
And Sarjo Fofana was the chair of the military court - Court martial - which presided over the case  in connection with the coup.

On the trial
Five state witnesses, including two former military men convicted by a military court in connection with the said coup attempt appeared as state witnesses, but 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.
However, the defense counsel of Tamba and Fofana had argued that the state has no evidence against their clients, noting that none of the witnesses linked their clients to the said treason.
 “The prosecution has proved its case beyond all reasonable doubt and I hereby found the accused person guilty of the charges,” Justice Ikapala, held.
He relied on the testimony of Major Bah and the statement obtained from a treason convict Captain Yaya Darboe by state investigators.
Justice Ikpala agreed on the content of the statement, which he said, states that Tamba and Fofana were involved in the coup attempt.
Lawyers maintained innocence
“Sarjo Fofana did not take any step in the 2006 foiled coup and there is no evidence from the prosecution,” the lawyer for Fofana, Lamin Mboge told court even after the guilty verdict was passed.
He described his client as a finest and a highly responsible gentleman with a wife and children and an extended family who all depend on him.
Lt Gen. Tamba, on the other hand, is a wife to two, a biological father to six and adopted father to fifteen people most of whom are young, according to his lawyer.
He was condemned to death last year alongside seven others, including top security men and business tycoons, also for treason allegations he had denied.
Treason attracts a maximum penalty of death sentence in The Gambia. The presiding judge sentenced Tamba and Fofana as follows: 20 years for conspiracy, 20 years for treason and 10 years for each of the two counts of concealment of treason.
Since the sentences will run concurrently, both men will spend 20 years in jail, unless otherwise.   
However, Tamba is unconvinced that he has done anything wrong and could be heard calling for an overhaul of The Gambia’s justice system, which has come under heavy criticisms over the years.
“Have faith Tamba because one day justice will prevail,” a bloodshot eye old man tried to cheer him up, as if the judge’s decision was unjust.
Author: Binta Bah

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