The Gambia: Portraits of survivors of Yahya Jammeh’s HIV/AIDS ‘cure’ treatment ©Jason Florio

Fatou Jatta survivour of President Yahya Jammeh's HIV/AIDS 'cure' program - portrait ©Jason Florio #Portraits4PositiveChange, The Gambia
Fatou Jatta – survivor of Yahya Jammeh’s HIV/AIDS ‘cure’ program, The Gambia – portrait ©Jason Florio #Portraits4PositiveChange

“From the time I started the concoction, I got weaker and weaker, my condition got worse. After July, I went to the MRC – which had been my treatment centre – and tested. My CD4 count had dropped to 80 – a threat to me, anything can happen” Fatou Jatta, survivor Jammeh’s HIV/AIDS ‘cure’ program and Member of the Santa Yalla Support Society

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters

In 2007, then President of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, announced that he could cure HIV/AIDS with his secret herbal concoction. Jammeh ‘invited’ (under his harsh dictatorship, many survivors say that they were coerced) Gambians living with HIV and AIDS into his Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme. He also ordered them to stop taking antiretroviral drugs, which in some cases proved fatal – as in the case of Lamin Moko Ceesay’s (pictured below) wife who died as a result of stopping her antiretroviral drugs on the orders of Jammeh, when she took part in his treatment program.

Also, without the consent of the patients, Jammeh’s administration of his herbal ‘cure’ was often televised to the nation.

Lamin Ceesay - took part in Yahya Jammeh AIDS/HIV herbal 'cure' trials, the Gambia - portrait ©Jason Florio
Lamin Moko Ceesay – took part in Yahya Jammeh AIDS/HIV herbal ‘cure’ trials, the Gambia – portrait ©Jason Florio #Portraits4PositiveChange, The Gambia

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2019: AIDSFREEWOLD: The survivors filed complaints with The Gambia Medical and Dental Council against Dr. Tamsir Mbowe and Dr. Malick Njie, both of whom served at different points as Jammeh’s Minister of Health. Fatou Jatta, Ousman Sowe, and Lamin “Moko” Ceesay signed the complaint against Dr. Mbowe; Fatou Jatta filed the complaint against Dr. Njie. (Read the letters here.) The survivors are supported in their actions by AIDS-Free World, the Gambia-based Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), and Combeh Gaye of the Gambian law firm Antouman A.B. Gaye & Co.

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters

Ousman Sowe, survivour of President Yahya Jammeh's HIV/AIDS 'cure' program - portrait ©Jason Florio #Portraits4PositiveChange, The Gambia
‘Musa’, survivor of President Yahya Jammeh’s HIV/AIDS ‘cure’ program –
portrait ©Jason Florio #Portraits4PositiveChange, The Gambia

#Portraits4PositiveChange

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’ is a multi-media work-in-progress series – portraits and filmed testimonies by Jason Florio and Helen Jones-Florio. To date, the portraits have been exhibited at The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations, and at the British High Commissioners Residence, Banjul, and at the Truth, Reconciliation, Reparations Commission (TRRC). See a selection of the portraits on Jason Florio’s website floriophoto.com

Portraits for Positive Change - at the TRRC Gambia ©Jason Florio
‘Portraits for Positive Change’ at the TRRC – donated by the British High Commission, The Gambia ©Jason Florio/Helen Jones-Florio

#Portraits4PositiveChange

Jason Florio making #Portraits4PositiveChange, the Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio.
Jason Florio making #Portraits4PositiveChange, the Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio.

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The Gambia – Portraits of Victims and the TRRC update, July 2019

Ya Mammie Ceesay & Alhajie Ceesay, The Gambia ©Jason Florio

First and foremost, in light of the shocking and distressing revelations coming out of the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in The Gambia over the past couple of days, we would like to extend our love and healing thoughts to all of the families who have listened to the testimonies of two men, Lieutenant Malik Jatta, and Omar Jallow (AKA Oya) – who were members of the ex-president, Yahya Jammeh’s assassination squad, ‘The Junglers’ – confess, often in explicit detail, their involvement in multiple killings on the command ex-president Yahya Jammeh; namely, the attendant families loved ones. And, particularly pertinent to our on-going series of portraits and filming testimonies:

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters of a regime’

Excerpt from our recording with Ya Mammie Ceesay & Alhajie Ceesay, mother and father of disappeared Gambian-American businessman, Alhaji Mamut Ceesay: Alhaji returned to The Gambia in 2013 with his friend Ebou Jobe to set up a business, but they were allegedly robbed of their money by National Intelligence Agency (NIA) heads, who later told President Jammeh the businessmen were in The Gambia to overthrow his regime. The two were then allegedly murdered on Jammeh’s command. Much to the family’s dismay, their bodies have never been found.

Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of Ya Mammie Ceesay whose son was murdered by the former regime of Yahya Jammeh ©Jason Florio
Ya Mammie Ceesay, The Gambia ©Jason Florio

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: “We covered them up with plastic bags and strangled them until they die and because Yahya Jammeh has given orders that we cut them into pieces, Malick Manga and Fansu Nyabally cut off the heads of Ebou and Mamud. After completing the digging, we put them in the ditch and we returned to Kanilai,” he said.

These are just a few of the portraits which we have been working on over the last few years, from the on-going series ‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’. However, all of the people featured here (aside from Imam Baba Leigh) have spent years of anguish, hearing only rumours about what may have happened to their loved ones. Everyone who sat for a portrait graciously allowed us to film them sharing their stories with us – openly and candidly. All of which, without exception, were profoundly heart-rending to hear. The common thread throughout was their utmost need to know the truth of what had truly happened to those who had been disappeared or murdered. And, to find out the whereabouts of their loved ones remains so that they can finally lay them to rest. Only then can the healing process truly begin. Sadly, as events unfold, it is now known that many of the bodies were thrown into wells or buried in unmarked graves.

A man wears a t-shirt with a photo of murdered newspaper editor and journalist, Dedyra Hydara, who was assassinated in 2004 ©Jason Florio

Deyda Hydara, co-founder of The Point newspaper was an advocate of press freedom and a fierce critic of the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who was openly hostile to journalists and the media. On December 14, 2004, he was assassinated in his car by gunmen as he was driving home. Two of his colleagues who were also with him were injured in the shooting 

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019: It took 15 years to have a concrete answer to the question: “Who Killed Deyda Hydara?” displayed on The Point newspaper front page banner since 2004. Lt. Malick Jatta of The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) and ex-Jungler testifies: “I shot at him… my colleagues Alieu Jeng and Sana Manjang also fired,” he said at the TRRC, noting that they were all quiet throughout their journey back to Kanilai without a single stop. The witness added that he only came to know in the following day that the person shot was actually Deyda Hydara.

'Gambia - victims and resisters' : portrait of Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh - mother and son of murdered 'brother' of Yahya Jammeh, Haruna Jammeh ©Jason Florio
Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh ©Jason Florio

#Portraits4PositiveChange

Excerpt from our recording with Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh, wife and son of Haruna Jammeh: President Jammeh allegedly ordered the murder of his cousin (‘brother’), Haruna, after he criticized Jammeh for his abuse of power. Haruna’s sister, Massie, was murdered soon after by Jammeh’s henchmen after she spoke out about her brother’s disappearance. A former member of Jammeh’s hit squad, the ‘Junglers’ now in Germany spoke openly on a Gambian radio station about witnessing the murders.

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: ‘On Haruna Jammeh’s death, Jungler Jallow said Haruna was arrested and detained at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) where he (Jallow), Sana Manjang, Alieu Jeng and Solo Bojang picked him and took him to Kanilai. “On our way to Kanilai, we drove through the bush and Sana Manjang brought out a rope and asked me and Alieu Jeng to tie it on Haruna’s neck. We did and he asked us to pull the rope, which we did, and he (Sana) stamped him on his neck and he died.” He further confessed that Haruna was their friend and they used to eat with him in his house, adding the order was from Yahya Jammeh’ The Point newspaper.

Later, when asked what they did with Haruna’s body, Jallow replied: “We took the body to the same well where these Ghanaians were killed. We took him to that well and threw him there,”

Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of Bintu Tunkara, daughter of murdered Gambian Lamin Tunkara, holding the only photo she has of him on her mothers cell phone ©Jason Florio
Bintu Tunkara ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Bintu’s mother, Adama Conteh: 13-year-old Bintu, holding her mother’s phone with a photo of her father of Lamin Tunkara – the father she never got the chance to meet. Gambian, Tunkara, was murdered in July 2005 when Adama was 7 months pregnant, with Bintu. They had been married for less than a year. When Lamin first went missing, Adama said “I  searched everywhere – Mile 2 prison, other prisons, police stations, NIA... they warned me to “go home if you do not want any trouble…stay, and you will have trouble”. I did not eat or wash for one week…he (Lamin) loved me, he took care of me.” She searched for over 1 year. ” Despite the many rumours, “I would not accept, nor would his father, that his son, my husband was dead“. 

It later transpired that Lamin was part of a group of almost 50 Ghanaians and other West African migrants bound for Europe who was arrested and slaughtered by the Gambian security forces. There was one sole survivor, Martin Kyere, who has now come forward to testify. “The West African migrants weren’t murdered by rogue elements, but by a paramilitary death squad taking orders from Gambia’s President Jammeh,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Jammeh’s subordinates then destroyed key evidence to prevent international investigators from learning the truth.”

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Corporal Omar A. Jallow testifies: “We were told they were mercenaries,” Jatta said, adding that he shot and killed one of the migrants. “I heard people shouting in the forest saying ‘save us, Jesus.’” Jallow told the TRRC that Lt Col Solo Bojang, the leader of the operation, told the men that “the order from Yahya Jammeh is that they are all to be executed.” It is believed that Lamin Tunkara was amongst the Ghanaians, Nigerians, Togolese, and Ivory Coast nationals were unlawfully killed. 

#Jammeh2Justice

Imam Baba Leigh, disappeared, held prisoner and tortured by Yahya Jammeh regime, The Gambia ©jason florio
Imam Baba Leigh ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Imam Baba Leigh: The imam spoke out against President Jammeh’s proposed execution of multiple prisoners. Leigh was then abducted and tortured, on Jammeh’s orders, and ‘disappeared’ for five months, before being released without charge. ‘Today is the day you die (he said that during his imprisonment he was threatened with death on multiple occasions)… they made me dig a big hole which I was then told to get into. “This is your grave,” they said…and then they buried me up to my neck’ IBL

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: “I participated in the torture of Imam Baba Leigh, Imam Bakawsu (Fofana) and another Imam, in the torture of the 30th December coup plotters” He went on to say “On the torture of Imam Baba Leigh after he (Leigh) was interrogated……, we were ordered by Nuah Badjie to torture him. We beat him using sticks, elastic pipes and I saw blood and bruises on him. The torture lasted for about half an hour.” Foroyaa Newspaper

Watch:

‘We Never Gave Up – stories of Courage in Gambia’

'Gambia - victims and resisters' : portrait of Fatou Suwaa widow of murdered army signal officer Mustafa Colley ©Jason Florio
Fatou Suwaa ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Fatou Suwaa, widow of former army signal officer Mustafa Colley: In 2012 Mustafa was found with a broken neck at the wheel of a taxi he had bought to earn extra money. Reports in the press said General Saul Badjie heard that Mustafa had been discussing the murder of Sergeant Ello Jallow, who had been killed for allegedly having an affair with President Jammeh’s wife. Baji was then instructed by Jammeh to have Mustafa murdered by his hit squad, the ‘Junglers’.

UPDATE: TRRC – July 2019 Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: Staff Sergeant Jallow also admitted participating in the killing of Baba Jobe, Ndour Cham, 9 death row inmates, Haruna Jammeh (a brother to Yahya Jammeh), Mustapha Colley, Saul Ndow and Mahawa Cham, among others. (At Mile2 Prison) “We lined-up our vehicles and Nuha Badjie and our leaders went in and took out 9 inmates from their cells,” he said. “When we got to the Range, we all came down and brought them down one by one. We put nylon plastic on their heads and cover them up. We suffocated them one by one until they all died. There was only one female who was Tabara Samba,” he said. “After killing them, we took them to the bush and throw them into a well,”

Visit Jason Florio’s website to see more from our on-going series

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’

Watch the testimonies from the TRRC – via QTV’s channel – on Youtube.

All images © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio. Text by Helen Jones-Florio.

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ at the TRRC – donated by the British High Commission, The Gambia ©Jason Florio/Helen Jones-Florio

With thanks for their support: The Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations; The Goethe Institut; The British High Commission in The Gambia; Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission


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‘Portraits for Positive Change’ the Gambia. The story so far…

It’s been an incredibly momentous, emotional – and active! – few months for us both, here in the Gambia. Since we arrived back on the West African coast in February we’ve held two photographic exhibitions of the portraits from our on-going body of work, ‘Gambia – victims, and resisters of a regime

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ Kafo Bayo – arrested on April 14th, 2016 during a peaceful demonstration for electoral reform © Jason Florio

For three days, I did not know who I was, or where I was…my clothes were like, you know, a butchers shirt…covered in blood… Kafo Bayo

Jason Florio, making #Portraits4PositiveChange – image ©Helen Jones-Florio


‘Portraits to Remember’
Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations – March 5th, 2019
With the kind support of the Goethe Institute

Kafo Bayo and some of the other victims in the exhibition at the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations, the Gambia ©Jason Florio

Photo Exhibit Documents Jammeh’s Reign of Terror – The Chronicle

“What I learnt from the interviews with victims is the range of abuses and atrocities that happened here during the 22 years of Jammeh. I have been coming to The Gambia for 20 years and I heard about things happening in the past but I had no idea about the range of abuses, including the use of forced medication, people forced to take HIV treatments. The tourists that came here had no idea about what was going on. Even I as a journalist who been here many times had no idea about what was really going on The Gambia,” Jason told The Chronicle.

Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations – ‘Portraits to Remember’ Exhibition, the Gambia ©Jason Florio


‘Portraits for Positive Change’
British High Commissioners Residence, Banjul – May 21st, 2019
With the kind support of the British High Commission

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ – British High Commissioners Residence, Banjul, the Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Jason Florio’s Photographic Stories of Gambia’s Human Rights Abuses – The Chronicle
‘Portraits for Positive Change’ – British High Commissioners Residence, Banjul, the Gambia © Jason Florio
Bintu Nyabally was detained for five days, beaten and raped by three masked security officers at the Gambia Police Intervention Unit HQ, after being arrested during a May 9th, 2016 rally, the Gambia  ©Jason Florio

#NeverAgainGambia

Today, 23rd May 2019, the ‘Portraits for Positive Change’ exhibition was donated, by the British High Commission, to the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), to be used as a tool for advocacy and awareness during their outreach programs around The Gambia. The aim of which is to create a dialogue within communities, to help sensitise people on the plight of the victims – emphasising the importance of victims to come forward and engage in the TRRC process.

British High Commissioner, Sharon Wardle, and the TRRC’s Vice Chairperson, Adelaide Sosseh Gaye, The Gambia © Jason Florio

“Coming to terms with the legacy of the recent past provides the Gambian people an opportunity to reconcile and regain the hope and optimism for the future they so deserve” Sharon Wardle – British High Commissioner to The Gambia

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ (#NeverAgain) – exhibition handover day at the TRRC, The Gambia © Jason Florio

The truth shall set you free…

The next step… which the portraits have already embarked on, is to take the exhibition further, into the international arena. First stop: the portraits were chosen by LensCulture Portrait Awards, in April.

And, on May 27th-29th they will be digitally exhibited – on 10ftx10ft screens – at the Oslo Freedom Forum festival.

The Oslo Freedom Forum is a transformative annual conference where the world’s most engaging human rights advocates, artists, tech entrepreneurs, and world leaders meet to share their stories and brainstorm ways to expand freedom and unleash human potential across the globe.

Now, where to next… watch this space.

Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ exhibition handover to the TRRC, in the Gambia. L-R: Helen Jones-Florio, Essa Jallow, Communications Specialist TRRC, Jason Florio

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Currently working in the Gambia – May 2019

Gambia – Victims, and Resisters of a Regime

#Portraits4PositiveChange

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Gambia Photography Exhibition opening night: ‘Portraits to Remember’ -victims, and resisters

Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow – executive secretary of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), The Gambia. Image © Jason Florio

March 5th, 2019 – opening night of ‘Portraits to Remember’ at the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations, the Gambia.

Jason Florio’s portraits, featured in the exhibition, are part of an on-going body of work which began over two years ago when he photographed Gambians who had exiled themselves, in fear of their lives, from the brutal regime of former Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh.

Victim of rape and beatings by Gambian security forces, The Gambia - portrait by Jason Florio
Bintu was detained for five days, beaten and raped by three masked security officers at the Gambia Police Intervention Unit (PIU) HQ, after being arrested during a May 9th 2016 rally to demand the release of illegally detained protesters from previous rallies held on April 15th/16th, 2016. When asked if she would prefer that we keep her identity anonymous her adamant reply was “No, this was done to me, and I want justice…these men should be punished” From the series ‘Gambia – Victims and Resisters of a Regime‘ ©Jason Florio

‘Gambia – Victims and Resisters of a Regime’

Oumie Jagne was shot twice in the arm by Gambian security forces during a peacful protests by students on April 10th 2000 © Jason Florio Gambia
Oumie Jagne was shot twice in the arm by Gambian security forces during a peacful protests by students on April 10th 2000 © Jason Florio

Oumie Jagne was shot twice in the arm by former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s security forces after she was caught up in student protests in April 10/11 2000. She was at her small shop when the shooting of unarmed students began and attempted to help a young girl who had been shot in the foot. While pulling the girl to safety, Oumie was fired upon and suffered life-changing injuries, almost severing her left arm. She is one of hundreds of victims registered at the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations.

#Portraits4PositiveChange

Opening night photography exhibition – portraits by Jason Florio. Image ©Jason Florio
Kafo Bayo (pictured below, at the exhibition opening night, seated below his portrait) was part of the April 14th, 2016 peaceful protest lead by Solo Sandeng for electoral reform. Bayo along with a number of other demonstrators was held for eight months subjected to torture and abuse by President Jammeh’s security forces, including being bound face down on a table and beaten by masked men Former seaman, masoner and political activist Kafo Bayo was arrested, tortured and jailed at Mile 2 prison after being arrested during the April 14th 2016 protests for electoral reform in the Gambia. From the series ‘Gambia – Victims and Resisters of a Regime‘  © Jason Florio

 ‘Gambia – Victims, and Resisters of a Regime’

From 1994 -2017 President Yahya Jammeh ruled the Gambia, West Africa, as his own personal fiefdom, crushing dissent, and opposition, with brutality.

His personal hit squad and intelligence agency carried out tortures, and assassinations with impunity – journalists were gunned down and disappeared, ministers were jailed, students shot in cold blood, and even his own brother and sister were murdered on his orders.

Journalist wearing a t-shirt with the face of assassinated journalist and co-founder of The Point newspaper Deyda Hydara. Hydara was an advocate of press freedom and a fierce critic of the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who was openly hostile to Gambian journalists and the media. Hydara was gunned down by assailants in his car as he was returning from work in 2004. From the series ‘Gambia – Victims and Resisters of a Regime‘  ©Jason Florio
Helen Jones-Florio talks with representatives of TRIAL International at the exhibition opening night, about her work on the portrait project with Jason. Image © Jason Florio.

With Jammeh’s 2016 election defeat, he went into exile after a standoff with regional forces, and the victims of his regime started to come forward.

So far, almost 1000 victims and their families have registered with the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations to share their stories and help build international support to bring Jammeh to justice

Opening night photography exhibition: Three of the subjects of – Jason Florio’s portraits. Image ©Jason Florio
For three days I did not know who I was…where I was. My clothes, they looked like, you know, like a butchers… (covered in blood) Kafo Bayo
Left: Photographer, Jason Florio, with some of the victims and resister who are portrayed in his photography on exhibit. Image © Helen Jones-Florio.
Ya Mammie Ceesay stands next to Jason Florio’s portrait of her. Image © Jason Florio.

Ya Mammie Ceesay, mother of disappeared Gambian-American businessman Alhaji Mamut Ceesay. Alhaji returned to the Gambia in 2013 with his friend Ebou Jobe to set up a business, but they were allegedly robbed of their money by National Intelligence Agency heads, who later told President Jammeh the businessmen were in the Gambia to overthrow his regime. The two were then allegedly murdered on Jammeh’s command.

Sharon Wardle, the British High Commissioner to The Gambia, with Ayeshah Jammeh (also one of the subjects of Jason Florio’s portraits of victims and resisters of a regime), one of the founder of the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations. Image ©Jason Florio.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words – compelling images & personal accounts at the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations – “Portraits to Remember” exhibition. Sharon Wardle, British High Commissioner to The Gambia

To see more from Jason Florio’s series, please visit the website ‘Gambia – Victims and Resisters of a Regime‘, a work-in-progress with Helen Jones-Florio.

 

Jason Florio’s work is towards under-reported stories about people living on the margins of society and human rights. His work has been recognised with a number of awards, including The Magnum Photography Award 2017 for his work on migration. He was the first recipient of the Aperture Foundation grant to produce Aperture’s first ever assigned story, ‘This is Libya’. His work is held in a number of public and private collections and has been presented in solo and joint exhibitions in USA, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

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2019 – Currently working on

Gambia – Victims, and Resisters of a Regime

#Portraits4PositiveChange

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Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio, standing in front of the banner for the exhibition, outside the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations, the Gambia. Image by Buba Bah.