BANJUL (Reuters) – Three ex-army officers in Gambia, who told a truth commission they participated in killings ordered by former president Yahya Jammeh, will be released, a minister said on Monday.
In July, Lieutenant Malick Jatta said he and two colleagues in Jammeh’s elite guard, known as the “junglers,” had shot dead a prominent journalist, testifying to a commission set up by the government to investigate past abuses.
Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said the men’s release was a necessary part of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s process.
“The TRRC is not a court of law and one of its primary objectives is to establish the truth,” he said.
“What we must not do is to scare people away from telling the truth because that will not be in anyone’s interest.”
Jammeh fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after losing a presidential election, bringing an end to 22 years in power marked by extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances as well as the pilfering of state assets.
The commission’s investigations of these abuses is ongoing – among them, the killings of journalist Deyda Hydara and of about 50 migrants whom Jammeh feared had come to overthrow him.
Members of Jammeh’s political party have denied accusations of abuses and corruption.
The announcement of the officers’ release has outraged victims’ relatives and human rights groups, who fear the men could escape justice or pose a threat to them.
“We are appealing to the government to make sure that these confessed killers are not in our streets, are not in our communities,” said Hydara’s son, Baba Hydara.
“It’s everything we fought for for 22 years… trashed,” he told Reuters.
According to Jatta’s testimony, he was paid 50,000 dalasi ($1,000) to carry out a hit and only learned the following day that the target had been Hydara, a newspaper editor who also worked for Agence France-Presse and Reporters Without Borders.
“If these hitmen flee The Gambia now, not only will they escape justice, but we will lose the key witnesses in any future trial against Yahya Jammeh for ordering these gruesome crimes,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch in a statement.
(Reporting by Pap Saine and Anna Pujol-Mazzini; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Andrew Cawthorne)