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April 14 UDP Westfield protesters jailed for 3 years

Jul 25, 2016, 11:44 AM | Article By: Halimatou Ceesay

The Mansakonko High Court in the Lower River Region presided over by Justice Abi Thursday convicted and sentenced 11 UDP supporters charged with protesting at Westfield on 14 April 2016.

The accused persons were Lamin Sonko, Modou Touray, Lansana Beyai, Lamin Marong, Alhajie Fatty, Nogoi Njie, Fatoumatta Jawara, Fatou Camara, Kafu Bayo, Ebrima Jabang and Modou Ngum.

They were sentenced on count one, to 1 year in prison; count two, to a fine of D20,000 in default to serve 2 years in prison; count three, 3 years in prison; count four, to a fine of D20,000 in default to serve 2 years in prison; count five, 3 years in prison; count six, 3 years; and count 7, 3 years in prison.

The sentences are without hard labour, and the convicts were reminded of their right to appeal if they wish to do so.

They were charged with seven counts of unlawful assembly, riot, incitement of violence, riotously interfering with vehicles, holding a procession without a permit, disobeying an order to disperse from an unlawful procession and conspiracy.

Delivering his judgment, the trial judge, Justice Abi, said the accused persons were called upon to take their plea on the charge, but they all remained mute.

He said the accused persons out of “malice and mere stubbornness” refused to take their plea, and a plea of not guilty was then entered on their behalf.

He said the prosecution was called upon to prove their case, adding that the prosecution called eight witnesses in proving their case.

The trial judge then read the evidence of all the prosecution witnesses, and said the accused persons were called upon to cross-examine the witnesses and object to the tendering of exhibits, but “they all refused” to do so and it was recorded that they did not have any questions or objections.

After the testimony of the witnesses, the prosecution applied for a stand down to advise themselves on whether to close case or call another witness, the judge said.

After the stand down, the prosecution announced the closure of their case.

Since the accused persons were unrepresented, they were reminded of their right to enter defence.

When called upon and asked if they wanted to open defence or exercise their constitutional right to remain silent, some of the accused persons shook their head in negative response, while others remained mute.

He said the court then recorded that they did not wish to open their defence.

Justice Abi further stated that as a general rule, the burden of proving the ingredients of the case was on the prosecution which should be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

He said the address filed by the prosecution, represented by A.M. Yusuf, submitted that in light of the evidence laid before the court the prosecution had proven the case beyond reasonable doubt, and urged the court to convict the accused persons.

He said in proving count one, which was unlawful assembly, the prosecution has to show that three or more persons assembled, intended to commit an offence, caused a breach of peace or provoked other persons to cause a breach of peace.

He said the testimonies of PW1, 2 and 3, therefore, stood un-contradicted since the accused persons did not cross-examine them.

He said on the issue of assembling with intent to commit an offence, the question was whether the act of the accused was intended to commit an offence.

He said the accused never denied being in a crowd affecting the flow of traffic and, therefore, it had been proved that it was intended to commit an offence.

It was the evidence of PW1 that shops were closed and people fled, he said.

“I find and hold that it is due to fear that the people closed their shops and fled. I find and hold that count one is proven beyond all reasonable doubt,” the judge added.

On count two, which was riot, the trial Judge said the people at Westfield, such as vendors, were put in “natural fear” and the peace at Westfield had been “disturbed” and, therefore, the count had also been proven.

Count three, which was incitement of violence, Justice Abi said PW1, 2 and 3 stated that they met a large crowd with banners and wordings written on it.

 He said it was also in evidence that someone was using a public address system.

 “I, therefore, hold that the accused persons had taken part in printing, publishing and distributing of the material and the banners,” he said.

He said the note from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice had consented to the prosecution of the accused persons on incitement of violence and, therefore, count three had been proven.

Justice Abi said that on count four, the prosecution has to establish that the accused persons riotously assembled and obstructed the movement of vehicles.

He said the evidence showed that they assembled and obstructed free flow of traffic and, therefore, count four was proved.

On count five and six, holding a procession without a permit, disobeying an order to disperse from an unlawful procession, the trial judge said that evidence has to show that the public procession took place without a permit.

He said PW1, 2 and 3 all stated that they met a crowd and asked if they had a permit, but no one produced a permit.

 “To make matters worse, the accused failed to cross-examine the witnesses, which allowed the prosecution witnesses’ evidence to remain unchallenged, which means that they had no permit to show,” he said.

“I find and hold that the accused persons neglected the proclamation to disperse,” he concluded.

On count 7, which was conspiracy, the trial judge said it seemed to him the accused persons must have agreed to convene at Westfield, and that there was a crowd of people from among the accused who were arrested.

He said since the accused persons failed to testify or cross-examine the witnesses, he would consider the statements of the accused persons tendered before him.

He read all their statements and said: “In all the statements read above, it is only Alajie Fatty that did not say that he is a UDP member, but did not disassociate himself from the meeting.”

It was a gamble on the part of the accused persons when they decided to remain silent and shut out themselves from the case, he said.

“The prosecution has proven their case beyond all reasonable doubt. I therefore hold that and find all the accused persons guilty on the amended information before me,” he said.

He then sentenced them accordingly, and the accused persons were not allowed to make a plea of mitigation.

After the verdict of the judge, all the accused persons shouted “Allahu Akbarr” a few times, and then sang the National Anthem.

The court was crowded with UDP members who came all the way from the Kombos led by the Secretary General and Deputy Party Leader, Aji Amie Secka.