German court sentences Gambian death squad member to life in prison

At the end of his trial in Germany, Gambian Bai Lowe was found guilty of crimes against humanity committed in The Gambia.
No surprises in the trial of Gambian Bai Lowe (shown here hiding his face behind a green sheet) in Germany: convicted of crimes against humanity, he received the maximum sentence. © Ronny Hartmann / Pool / AFP
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A German court on Thursday sentenced a Gambian man to life in prison over his participation in a death squad that assassinated opponents of former dictator Yahya Jammeh, including an AFP journalist.

Bai Lowe was convicted of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder for his role as a driver for the hit squad known as the Junglers.

Lowe's conviction came after a trial that rights groups and family members said was just the beginning of a long road towards justice for the victims of Jammeh's regime.

Lowe, who denied the charges against him, shook his head as the sentence was read out by the judge at the court in the northern town of Celle.

The Junglers unit was "used by the then-president of The Gambia to carry out illegal killing orders, among other things" with the aim of "intimidating the Gambian population and suppressing the opposition", according to prosecutors.

The list of crimes included the 2004 killing of AFP correspondent Deyda Hydara, who was gunned down in his car on the outskirts of Gambia's capital Banjul on December 16, 2004.

Lowe was found to have acted as a driver for the unit and to have helped stop Hydara's car on the night of the murder.

Hydara's son, Baba Hydara, said in Celle that while the ruling was an "important day" for the victims of Jammeh's government, it was "just a start".

"We have more fights. We have more challenges, trials and tribulations to achieve our goal, and our main goal is to get the one who was giving the orders," he told AFP.

- Journalist killing -

Hydara was an editor and co-founder of independent daily The Point and a correspondent for AFP for over 30 years.

The father of four also worked as a Gambia correspondent for non-governmental group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and was considered a doyen among journalists in the tiny West African state.

In The Point, he wrote a widely read column, "Good morning, Mr President", in which he expressed his views on Gambian politics.

As well as having a role in Hydara's killing, Lowe is accused by prosecutors of involvement in the attempted assassination of lawyer Ousman Sillah and the murder of Dawda Nyassi, a suspected opponent of the president.

The ruling against Lowe is "the first time a court has recognised that crimes against humanity were committed by Yahya Jammeh", Hydara's lawyer Patrick Kroker said.

Welcoming the verdict, AFP's Global News Director Phil Chetwynd said it was "a first step to establishing responsibility in the murder of Deyda Hydara, our correspondent for 30 years in The Gambia, who paid with his life in his fight for press freedom".

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that "justice will only prevail when Jammeh is extradited from his exile in Equatorial Guinea and faces charges in Gambia's special criminal court".

The proceedings were held in Germany on the basis of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed.

The evidence against Lowe included photos found showing him in military uniform and a radio interview given by the suspect in 2013 to a US-based Gambian radio station.

- 'Detailed account' -

In the interview, Lowe gave a "detailed account of the planning and execution" of the crimes that indicated he was speaking from memory.

Lowe previously said he had been convinced by the interviewer to pose as a member of the death squad, repeating what other people had told him about to illustrate the cruelty of Jammeh's government.

Jammeh ruled Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years but fled the country in January 2017 after losing a presidential election to relative unknown Adama Barrow.

Jammeh refused to acknowledge the results but was forced out by a popular uprising and fled to Equatorial Guinea.

Lowe is one of three alleged accomplices of Jammeh to be detained abroad, alongside former interior minister Ousman Sonko, under investigation in Switzerland since 2017, and another alleged former Jungler, Michael Sang Correa, indicted in June 2020 in the United States.

The Gambian government itself said earlier this year it was working with West African regional bloc ECOWAS to set up a tribunal to try crimes committed under Jammeh.

Hailing Thursday's ruling as a "historic day for the entire Gambian press", which Deyda Hydara had championed, RSF head of advocacy Antoine Bernard stressed: "The real instigator, dictator Yahya Jammeh and all his accomplices, must now be held accountable for their crimes."

"We will never stop until he has his day in court," vowed Baba Hydara.

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