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


Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here

 @jasonflorio / @floriotravels / @doors.helenjonesflorio / 

@jasonflorio.photographyprints – Instagram

Jason Florio – Vimeo / floriotravels – Vimeo

floriophotoNYC – Twitter

PhotoTellStories – FB

Advertisements

Gambia documentary screening at Pan African Film & Arts Festival, 2019, LA

"We Never Gave Up: Stories of Courage in Gambia" free doc screening, Aug 13th, London. Poster Image © Helen Jones-Florio (inside Mile2 prison) "We Never Gave Up: Stories of Courage in Gambia" free doc screening, Aug 13th, London. Image © Helen Jones-Florio (inside Mile2 prison)
We Never Gave Up – Stories of Courage in Gambia

Gambia documentary screening at Pan African Film & Arts Festival - still from: Free Screening, london, documentary 'We Never Gave Up - stories of courage in Gambia' Amnesty International
Free Screening ‘We Never Gave Up – stories of courage in Gambia’ Amnesty International – still image ©Helen Jones-Florio (exclusive images from inside the maximum security wing, 2018, Mile2 Prison)

Gambia documentary screening at Pan African Film & Arts Festival – We are honoured to have ‘We Never Gave Up – Stories of Courage in Gambia‘, made for Amnesty International, chosen to be shown in its entirety at the 27th PAFF, Los Angeles, CA, February 7-18, 2019 (screening times to be confirmed)

We believe film and art can lead to better understanding and foster communication between peoples of diverse cultures, races, and lifestyles, while at the same time serve as a vehicle to initiate dialogue on the important issues of our times. PAFF.

Gambia documentary screening at Pan African Film & Arts Festival - Still from 'We Never Gave Up' Imam Baba Leigh, The Gambia - portrait ©Jason Florio
Still from ‘We Never Gave Up’ Imam Baba Leigh who was arrested, disappeared, and tortured, for 5 months, The Gambia – portrait ©Jason Florio.

Gambia documentary screening at Pan African Film & Arts Festival

Once the screening has taken place, we will post a link to view the full documentary. In the meantime, the trailer can be seen here.

_____

Jason Florio is currently working on ‘Gambia – Victims and Resisters of a Regime‘ making portraits and filming testimonies, with Helen Jones-Florio.

#Portraits4PositiveChange

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.

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, over 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

This is a work in progress in collaboration with the GCHRV.

Bintu was detained and raped by 3 masked security officers - Gambia victims and resisters portraits ©Jason Florio
Bintu was detained and raped by 3 masked security officers – Gambia-Victims and Resisters of a Regime. Portraits ©Jason Florio.

Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here

BEING SOCIAL
@JASONFLORIO /@FLORIOTRAVELS /
@DOORS_FACADES_FLORIO / @FLORIO_GALLERY
INSTAGRAM
PHOTOSTELLSTORIES – FB
@FLORIOPHOTONYC – TWITTER

‘We Never Gave Up – stories of courage in Gambia’ Amnesty International documentary screening

Watch the trailer on Vimeo - documentary 'We Never Gave Up-stories of courage in Gambia'
Watch the full documentary on Vimeo – ‘We Never Gave Up-stories of courage in Gambia’

We Never Gave Up: Stories of Courage in Gambia – Film Screening and Q&A

Amnesty International will host a screening of the documentary (which we made for them) on 13th August, followed by a Q&A session with experts including Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher Sabrina Mahtani, and chaired by Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues and Head of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Makmid Kamara.

August 13th, 2018 – 71a Gallery, London

‘Gambia’s last decades during President Jammeh’s regime were a story of serious human rights violations. During the 22 years (1994-2016) that Jammeh was in power, the space for expression of dissent was severely limited. President Jammeh’s regime included enforced disappearances, torture, restrictions on freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests, and detention…’ Amnesty – see all the details on their Eventbrite page.

Preparing to interview Imam Baba Leigh at his home ©Helen Jones-Florio
Preparing to interview Imam Baba Leigh at his home ©Helen Jones-Florio

“We Never Gave Up: Stories of Courage in Gambia” – Amnesty International Documentary

“We Never Gave Up: Stories of Courage in Gambia

A Jason Florio & Louise Hunt Production for Amnesty International

the documentary

At the end of last year, we were commissioned by Amnesty International, West Africa, to make a documentary about the human rights defenders, and activists, who worked tirelessly, and often at their own risk, to stand up for those who had been abused and tortured – including working for the families of those who had ‘disappeared‘ – under the 22-year dictatorship of President Yahya Jammeh.

Screen-grab from documentary: Dec 2016, Yahya Jammeh goes live on air to rescind the recent elections, whereby the majority of the country voted him out
Screen-grab from documentary trailer: Dec 2016, Yahya Jammeh goes live on air to rescind the recent elections, after the majority of the country voted him out

Director of Photography/Co-Producer, Jason Florio, with Foroyaa newspaper editor, Samuel Sarr, at his printing press
Director of Photography/Co-Producer, Jason Florio, with Foroyaa newspaper editor, Samuel Sarr, in his printing press. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

Having traveled, lived, and worked, over the last 20 years, on various assignments and personal projects, in the Gambia, Florio and I were always aware of its dark underbelly. We heard ‘the stories‘ of abuse, torture, disappearances, murder even. And, in a country which depends largely on tourism – the pull of beautiful sandy beaches, year-long sunshine, languorous boat trips on the River Gambia, technicolored sunsets – you’d be extremely hard pushed, if you only visited for a holiday, to have any notion at all of the graveness of what was going on, in the small West Africa country.

Jugana, one of the victims of Jammeh's torturous regime, being filmed by Jason Florio ©Helen Jones-Florio
Jugana Suso, a victim of Jammeh’s torturous regime, being filmed by Jason Florio ©Helen Jones-Florio

For 22 years, we documented Gambians living in a climate of fear. Their rights were denied and many were subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, and widespread surveillance. But even in those dark days, there were people brave enough to stand up and challenge the abuse of power.” 

Screen-grab from the documentary #GambiaHasDecided, Bakau ©Jason Florio
Screen-grab from the documentary trailer #GambiaHasDecided, Bakau ©Jason Florio

“Whether they were journalists, human rights lawyers, community leaders, young activists or victims of abuses, they never gave up. Our film portrays their stories, showing the world a lesson that what happened in the Gambia is proof of the power and change that human rights defenders can bring about.Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Regional Director.

Preparing to interview Imam Baba Leigh at his home ©Helen Jones-Florio
Preparing to interview Imam Baba Leigh at his home – a former prisoner and victim of torture – with sound man, Pa Ebou Sossey ©Helen Jones-Florio

Jason Florio filming at the Foroyaa newspaper print shop ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)
Jason Florio filming at the Foroyaa newspaper print shop ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

Human rights lawyers: L-R ©Helen Jones-Florio
Human rights lawyers, with their client, Jugana Suso: L-R: Hawa Sisay Sabally, Rachel Yvonne Mendy, Juguna Suso, Yassin Sanghor © Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

The facilitators of the #GambiaHasDecided campaign ©Helen Jones-Florio
The inspiring people behind the far-reaching and incredibly influential #GambiaHasDecided campaign – Lamin Saidykhan, Gilleh Thomas, Asta Jobe, Salieu Taal ©Helen Jones-Florio

Filming human rights lawyer, xxxx, in her home © Helen Jones-FlorioFilming human rights lawyer, xxxx, in her home © Helen Jones-Florio
Filming human rights lawyer, Yassin Sanghor at in her home © Helen Jones-Florio

Car bumper sticker '#MyTribeIsGambian © Helen Jones-Florio
Car bumper sticker ‘#MyTribeIsGambian © Helen Jones-Florio

To have all those stories,  Jammeh’s reign of fear and terror,  Florio and I had only heard whispers about over the years (until April 2016, when Gambians came to the streets to protest after the death in custody of activist Solo Sandeng), our Gambian friends only ever spoke sotto voce about what was going on, confirmed by those who had actually lived them was both incredibly disturbing and humbling. Now, with a new president, they have the freedom to speak out, have their voices heard.

Louise Hunt, write and co-producer, interviews Salieu Taal (#GambiaHasDecided), Saffy J's Restaurant, Bakau ©Helen Jones-Florio
Louise Hunt, writer/co-producer, interviews Salieu Taal (#GambiaHasDecided), Saffie J’s Restaurant, Bakau ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

We are truly thankful to every single person who shared their experiences, those who worked with us on the documentary, and Amnesty International for inviting us to make the documentary, in a place that we feel is a second home.

The Florios

Photos Tell Stories – documentary, photography, travel

Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa
Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa

Follow us on Instagram @floriotravels / @jasonflorio for updates on

when and where you can see the full documentary