Well come to No.4,Yundum Army Barracks, The Gambia – this door, to a Gambian soldiers quarters, overlooks the site on the camp where the bodies of seven murdered soldiers were exhumed. The soldiers were murdered by soldiers loyal to the former president, Yahya Jammeh, for being allegedly part of a counter-coup in November 1994. Witnesses say eleven soldiers were buried at the barracks, so far only seven have been found. Along with the bone fragments, electrical cables were also found that were used to bind the victims’ hands. The only clothing found were underwear, corroborating witness testimonies that the men were stripped almost naked before being shot.
11 APRIL 2000 – Modou Lamin Chune, 14 years old, was one of 16 young people shot dead by Gambian paramilitary forces (over two days, 10th and 11th April) when theyopened fire on a peaceful demonstration by students. At first, they used rubber bullets and tear gas. When the students refused to disperse, live bullets were used.
“My son was amongst the children massacred by Yahya Jammeh’s security forces… he was trying to escape, running with the other students to save their lives, and he was shot dead as he reached the school gates” Mbye Babou Chune
“Modou was a brilliant student – the saddest day of my families life…innocent children killed by state guard/paramilitary officers…using live bullets and AK47’s. There was no mistake, it was their intention to kill” Mbye Babou Chune
The protest took place after a 19-year-old secondary school student, Ebrima Barry, who after insulting one of his teachers, was tortured and murdered by firefighters (they, and not the police, who were called to remove the student from the classroom). Along with beating him, the firefighters poured cement in Ebrima’s mouth and forced him to swallow it. They later allowed him to go home but, tragically, Ebrima died the next day as a result of his injuries.
Around the same time, a 13-year-old girl – ‘Binta’ – who was attending a school sports day at the Independence Stadium, was allegedly raped by a uniformed paramilitary officer. A medical examination later confirmed that Binta had been raped. After the two incidents, the Gambia Students Union (GAMSU) requested a permit to hold a public protest, as was their constitutional right. Their request was denied and GAMSU called on its members to take part in a peaceful march from the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI), towards the capital city of Banjul, and Jammeh’s seat of power in the State House. Before the march even began, the police opened fire on the crowd, outside the GTTI.
I was not a coward, but Jammeh does not sympathise…if I put pressure on the case (to get justice for his son, and the others who were murdered and injured), I feared I would be ‘eliminated’. My phone was already being tapped by the NIA. This was not fair to the rest of my family…” Mbye Babou Chune
Despite the number of people killed, and many more severely injured – some left paralyzed, for life – then president, Yahya Jammeh’s government suppressed any investigation. Many of the victims’ families were allegedly threatened by the feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA), preventing them from coming forward to make a case. Jammeh’s brutal dictatorship latest 22 years – 1994-2017 (although he was voted out in December 2016, he refused to step down, until he was sent into exile in January 2017).
Making #Portraits4PositiveChange, with Jason Florio, we are meeting victims and survivors of the brutal regime of the former president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh. The man, ‘A.K.J.’, who lives behind this door, was shot in the leg by security forces when he took part in a peaceful student protest in April 2000. A.K.J. told us how they opened fire when he and his fellow students were less than 100 meters away. He saw 4-5 students lying dead around him as he waited to be rescued – 14 young people in total were shot dead. Fortunately, for him, the Red Cross came to his aid. He was In hospital for 4 months… He now walks with the aid of a stick.
As I lay wounded, hoping that someone would come and help me, on the ground around me, I could see 4 or 5 bodies… they were not moving…AKJ
For three days, I did not know who I was, or where I was…my clothes were like, you know, a butchers…covered in blood… KB
Mr. Kafu Bayo, who lives behind this door, was arrested in the Gambia on April 14th, 2016, whilst marching with the opposition leader, Solo Sandeng – who was also arrested at the same time and, tragically, killed whilst in police custody – and many others, for electoral reform. Kafu, along with fellow marchers, was severely beaten, tortured and imprisoned for 8 months. He was in his mid-seventies at the time of his arrest.
See Jason Florio’s portraits, from our on-going series
We are still in West Africa, and I see similarities every day in many of the doors and storefronts, here in the Gambia, of those that I see daily in Malta – the rich, and vibrant colours of beauty in decay…