Momodou Bah, 19, works is a commercial van apprentice along the Serrekunda-Brikama dual highway. He yelled at the driver of an SUV along Kombo Sillah Drive to shut the door to his vehicle to allow the flow of traffic.
The door of the SUV had been flanked open obstructing traffic.
Suddenly, the same SUV crossed in front them and blocked the road, bringing the traffic to a complete stop.
The Gambia’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Ousman Bargie disembarked from the SUV, waving his pistol from side to side, accusing Bah of being rude and cursing at him.
The pleading of at least a dozen passengers fell on deaf ears and Bah realizing how much trouble he was in took off running for his life. Bah may have been safe for a moment but not his boss, Muhammed Touray who was arrested by General Bargie.
Touray would only be released if Bah turns himself in. He did a few hours later and both spent the night sleeping on a cardboard in a jail inside a military barracks and Bah could only be released on the orders of General Bargie.
“I slept the night the night with my boss in the same cell and the next day, the CDS released my boss but ordered I remain in custody,” said Momodou Bah.
Bah was taken into custody at a military barracks not far from the British Embassy and he never stood a chance of coming out without being a torture victim.
Momodou Bah was at the Fajara Barracks where he was tortured. Cold water was poured all over his body and flogged, leaving him seriously wounded.
The Fajara Barracks is home to the Gambia’s Republican National Guard, a battalion some of whose officers were part of former President Yahya Jammeh’s hit squad, the Jungulars.
It was evening and the military base that also host West African regional troops were retiring into the quietness of the night. Bargie came to release Bah who was brought out from his cell and taken to a different room.
Military men surrounded him and started pouring cold water all over him before stretching him on a table.
Some held his legs and others his hands. Bargie entered and gave orders to those standing to flog him. The men were armed with pipes, “strong pipes,” recalled Bah and started hitting him all across his body, especially on his legs since he ran. At some point, the military general himself took a pipe from one of the men and started hitting him.
Bah was bleeding. His wounds were so deep and blood clothed around them. The pictures of the scar-like wounds are so visible and troubling to publish.
“I admit beating him and ordering my boys to pour cold water on him to teach him a lesson,” Bargie told Gambian journalist Yankuba Jallow.
Bargie denied brandishing his pistol in public and defended the torturing of the young man.
“He insulted my mother and we are Africans. We do not accept that here. We have children’s rights but we also have our tradition and culture,” he said.
Human rights abuses by the Gambia’s army is in part responsible for the deployment of West African troops to stabilize the political tension in the country. The country’s new President Adama Barrow has vowed to bring an end to rights violations, especially torture and arbitrary detentions by security forces.
While some security chiefs lost their jobs, President Barrow has kept Bargie has his military chief. His latest action, however, may throw the Commander-in-Chief’s decision into question.
Forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and other human rights violations by Gambian soldiers under former dictator Yahya Jammeh went unpunished. An indemnity law protects them from prosecution.
UN special rapporteurs, who in 2014 gained access to the country for the first time, concluded that “torture is a consistent practice” by authorities and “avoiding arrest is a necessary preoccupation” for ordinary Gambians.
Barrow had pledged that “rule of law will be the order of the day” in this new Gambia, so far the security forces continue to act with impunity, including Military Chief Lt. Gen. Ousman Bargie, who has found comical fame in the wake of political change.
(Reporting by Yusupha Jallow; Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Reporting from Foroyaa Newspaper; Editing by Sainey MK Marenah)