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In treason trial, judge frowns on prison officers

Jul 2, 2010, 12:44 PM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

The judge in the treason trial involving Lt. General Lang Tombong Tamba and Rear Admiral Sarjo Fofana yesterday frowned on prison officers when the accused persons were still in handcuffs when they stood in the dock.

Lt. General Tamba ex-Chief of Defence Staff and Rear Admiral Sarjo Fofana ex-chief of Naval Staff were arraigned before Justice Ikpala at the Special Criminal Court of the high court in Banjul.

They were indicted on four counts of treasonable offences, including conspiracy to commit treason, concealment of treason and treason in connection with the 21st March 2006 abortive coup attempt.

When the case resumed on Thursday, the accused persons were in handcuffs when they were called to enter the dock.

Justice Ikpala asked Tamba and Fofana why they were still in handcuffs.

He then turned to ask the prison wardens who escorted the accused persons to explain to the court why the accused persons were in handcuffs when in the dock.

Consequently, he ordered that the handcuffs be unlocked and removed, before he would preside over the case.

The prisons officers initially hesitated, saying they did not have the keys of the handcuffs, but a senior prison officer later handed over the keys to a junior officer, who then unlocked the handcuffs.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Richard Chenge, who led the team of state prosecutors, told the court that the prosecution was applying for a two-week adjournment.

"My witnesses are prisoners who were sentenced, and I need time to get them," he said.

Defence counsel SM Tambedou then rose and told the court that he was opposing the DPP's application for an adjournment.

He told the court that the indictment was filed since 7th June 2010, and noted that there was a presumption that the state was ready to proceed with the case, and that was why the indictment was filed.

Defence counsel Tambedou added that at the time of filing the indictment, the state knew who these witnesses were, and their respective locations.

Stating that sufficient reason(s) were not advanced by the DPP for the application, Tambedou further submitted that the state should, therefore, take adequate measures to ensure that the witnesses are available for the hearing.

Counsel for the defendants finally urged the court not to grant the prosecution's application for an adjournment.

Lawyer L.K. Mboge, representing Sarjo Fofana, also told the court that he was vehemently opposed to any adjournment, for the simple reason that any further adjournment in this matter was tantamount to the violation of the fundamental rights of the accused persons, as guaranteed in the Gambian constitution.

L.K. Mboge cited Section 24 of the Constitution to further buttress his point, noting that the said section guarantees the protection of the law and a fair trial.

"The prosecution has filed this indictment together with six witnesses and, according to the DPP, the witnesses are all prisoners. The same thing applies to the accused, who are also detained there," Mboge submitted.

He further submitted that the prosecution's application for an adjournment lacks merit, and that it would take a few minutes for the state, with all their apparatus, to bring these witnesses to court.

He, therefore, urged the trial judge to dismiss the prosecution's application for an adjournment.

DPP Chenge replied that this matter came up not a long time ago, and that it is natural that there can be lapses. He added that they needed a considerable time to proceed with the matter.

The presiding judge, after listening to both parties, granted the prosecution's application for an adjournment, and subsequently adjourned the case to 15th July 2010.

However, he emphasised that starting, from 15th July 2010, he will be hearing the case on a daily basis.