By Mustapha K. Darboe
BANJUL, Gambia (AA) - A Gambian opposition leader currently standing trial on charges of unlawful assembly, riot and illegal procession has boycotted the trial involving him and 19 other supporters or executive members of his party.
Ousainou Darboe, leader of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) - President Yayha Jammeh’s political rival - has told the High Court today that their conviction has already been “predetermined”.
“I have no doubt that this trial has been conducted in a way to accelerate my predetermined conviction,” he said in a crowded courtroom situated at the entrance of the country’s capital, Banjul.
“We are denied our rights under the Criminal Procedure Court of Gambia.”
The UDP leader who appeared in court with his co-accused without any of their lawyers made these statements following testimony given by the first State witness in the trial.
Though the court continued hearing the account of the State’s second witness in the trial, Darboe, himself a seasoned lawyer, and his colleagues continued in their refusal to take part in the trial.
Darboe and his colleagues kept silent and disengaged all through the trial even when the court sought their response on which local language they best understand.
The UDP leader and his colleagues were arrested on April 16 as they took to the streets demanding the release of their party members who were taken into custody two days earlier for holding a peaceful demonstration asking for “proper electoral reform”.
The UDP youth leader Solo Sandeng— whose whereabouts are still unknown—led the April 14 demonstration and was reported to have died in state custody hours before Darboe and colleagues took to the street demanding his release “dead or alive”.
Though Darboe and colleagues have boycotted their trial, they still have a pending bail hearing at the Court of Appeal of Gambia, a case their lawyers filed after the High Court denied them bail.
They also have a pending case at the Supreme Court of Gambia challenging the constitutionality of four of the charges the state prosecutors brought against them.
Since the arrest of the UDP leader and his party supporters, several human rights organizations, as well as the UN, have called on Gambia government to release them.
The Gambians will head to polls on Dec. 1 to elect a new president and the UDP leader and his executive members could face up to a year in jail if convicted on all charges brought against them.