All cards are now on the table in the trial against Baboucar “Bai” Lowe in the German city of Celle. Yesterday, on Thursday 20 October, the Gambian defendant, a 47-year-old alleged ex-militiaman in his country, broke the silence and had his lawyer read out a statement that completely twisted the narrative that the prosecution had been trying to establish since the beginning of the trial in April.
Lowe, who appeared in court wearing a black hoody, grey jeans and black sneakers, is accused of crimes against humanity in conjunction with two murders and one attempted murder. He is alleged to have been a member of Gambian ex-dictator Yahya Jammeh’s notorious death squad known as the “Junglers”. According to the indictment, “the aim of [the Junglers’] operations was to intimidate the Gambian people and suppress the opposition.” One of the victims was journalist Deyda Hydara, whose son Baba Hydara has joined the proceedings as a plaintiff. Lowe is accused of being the death squad’s driver. He allegedly drove the killers to their missions and in one case used the car to block a victim’s vehicle. Among the evidence against Lowe is an interview he gave in 2013 to the oppositional US-based Freedom Radio, where he describes being present during the assassinations.
But yesterday, in his statement, Lowe claimed that he lied about his involvement with the Junglers.
“Nobody talked about what the Junglers did”
It had been known beforehand that the statement would not contain a confession. But he “did not expect it to be that constructed”, said plaintiff lawyer Peer Stolle after the court session, which lasted 45 minutes. The statement had been translated to German and was read out by defence lawyer Matthias Kracke. In it, the defendant starts by talking about his personal background. He was born on the 14th of June 1975 as the oldest of seven children. His father died 19 years later, which is why Lowe was not able to go to university after graduating from high school. Instead, he worked in a gas station, until he decided to sign up with the military. After completing basic training, he worked in the State House, the residence of then President Jammeh. In 2001, he was trained as a driver and practiced this profession for almost ten years. Even though, he said, “he tried to advance” in his career by participating in a training with Libyan soldiers, he kept working as a driver for the State House or for the border patrol.
Lowe claims that yes, there was a special patrol team of eight to thirteen men, who carried out the deadly attacks, but that he was not part of it. “I was aware that this team had been established”, he said through his lawyer in the court room. “They were executing the president’s orders. But nobody talked about what exactly it was that they did.” In 2005, he said, that unit was expanded and provided with black uniforms and black cars. They became known as the “Junglers”, “Black Black” or “Scorpions”. Later, he said, all of the other units received black uniforms, as well, and were called the same names. “Today I understand that they were trying to hide the Junglers in this way”, Lowe said in his statement.
He added that he did not find out what the Junglers did until 2006, when some of them told him about the killings.
“I did not participate in any crimes”
At that point, according to Lowe, a member of the Junglers called Malick Jatta told him that they had killed his half-brother. Despite his anger, Lowe claimed, he kept in touch with them, “hoping for more information from the perpetrators”. He went on describing situations in which Junglers told him about the murders of journalist Hydara, of oppositional Dawda Nyassi and about the assassination attempt against lawyer Ousman Sillah – for which Lowe himself is accused in Celle court. One Jungler allegedly told him about the killing of Hydara, while they sat in a bar drinking. “I did not drink any alcohol”, Lowe stressed. “I just paid and drank non-alcoholic beverages.” Another time, he said, drunk Malick Jatta told him how they shot Nyassi. And during a car ride, a third Jungler told him about the attempted murder of Sillah, and that they had received lists from the president of those he wanted dead. At the end of his statement, Lowe claimed that his 2013 interview “was based on other people’s narrations. I did not participate in any of these crimes.”
But why then did he tell this incriminating story to journalist Pa Nderry M’Bai, editor of Freedom Radio? Lowe explained that he grew more and more anxious about the information that he had been hearing, but did not know what to do with it. “I was afraid for myself and my family.” During a trip to Senegal to visit his mother, he got hold of an issue of the Freedom Newspaper, which was not available in Gambia. He called editor M’Bai and told him what he knew. They kept in touch regularly so that, according to Lowe, the journalist could get information and pass it on to the radio and newspaper.
Posing as a Jungler?
This phase ended in 2012, Lowe said in his statement, when soldiers came to his house to arrest him, but he was not home. They came again a week later and broke the doors. “They threatened my wife that they would arrest me and that nobody would ever see me again”, he said. At this point, he decided to leave the country. A month later, on the 15th of July 2012, he received a phone call from M’Bai. “I know the date, because I marked it red in my calendar”, read Lowe’s statement. “It was the day that I decided I would do everything I could to bring down Jammeh.” That day, he claimed, M’Bai called him three times – desperate, because he had been publishing so much about the Junglers’ crimes, but it had made no difference. Lowe said M’Bai urged him to pose as a Jungler and make all his knowledge public. “He said I was the only person who could make the people in Gambia believe the truth.”
Lowe declined at first, but M’Bai persisted. In his third call, he allegedly told Lowe that after the next elections, Jammeh would appoint himself king for life. At this point, Lowe decided to help. A while later, he got a visa, travelled to Germany, and gave the incriminatory interview to M’Bai over the phone – based on, as he claimed, narrations of others as well as directions from the journalist himself. He considers the scheme a success: “It did, finally, lead to the people in Gambia knowing the truth about Jammeh”, he said in his statement.
No more support from Gambian authorities
M’Bai, the only person who could confirm or rebut this version of the events, passed away a year ago. But Peer Stolle, who represents the joint plaintiffs Baba Hydara and Ida Jagne in court, considers Lowe’s statement implausible. “The information he gave in the radio interview was very detailed” said Stolle outside the courtroom. “It is not plausible at all that he made all of it up.” The details also conformed with those mentioned in the testimony of his client Jagne, who had been a witness of Hydara’s killing. “He could only have known those details if he was at the crime scene himself.” In addition, Stolle said, there had been testimonies at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission that mentioned Lowe, as well as accounts he gave to people in his personal circle and to the journalist Fatou Camara.
Camara is scheduled to testify in Celle in November, despite some difficulties in bringing her to court. “It appears that the Gambian authorities no longer support the German judiciary in this case”, said judge Ralf Günther at the beginning of yesterday’s session. They had not forwarded summoning letters to Gambian witnesses.
In this universal jurisdiction’s trial, scheduled until January 2023, both plaintiffs have testified in the past weeks, as well as two former members of the Junglers. It remains to be seen how the trial will continue and “what evidence is needed to complete the picture, that the defendant has now contradicted,” according to victim’s lawyer Stolle.