A German court sentenced a Gambian death squad member to life imprisonment on Thursday, convicting him of crimes against humanity among other charges, at the end of the country's first trial for abuses committed under President Yahya Jammeh's regime.
Presented by the media as Bai Lowe but only identified as Bai L. by the German justice system, the 48-year-old man was convicted of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder in a total of three cases by the court in Celle (north), which followed the request of the public prosecutor.
Specifically, he was found guilty of participating in murders in his country between 2003 and 2006, including that of AFP correspondent Deyda Hydara, shot dead on December 16, 2004.
The man was a driver for the "Junglers", a Gambian death squad created by the ruling government in the mid-1990s to intimidate or eliminate any form of opposition.
Speaking via his lawyer at a hearing in October 2022, he denied any involvement in these acts. The defense pleaded for his acquittal.
A refugee in Germany since 2012, Bai Lowe was arrested in Hanover in March 2021.
His trial was made possible because Germany recognizes universal jurisdiction for certain serious crimes under international law. This enables it to try suspects on its soil, irrespective of their nationality or the place where the alleged crimes were committed.
The country has already convicted Syrians for atrocities committed during the country's civil war.
Specifically, the Gambian was accused of involvement in the attempted murder of Ousman Sillah, a lawyer, the murder of Deyda Hydara, the attempted murder of Ida Jagne and Nian Sarang Jobe, who worked for the newspaper co-founded by Hydara, and the murder of a former Gambian soldier, Dawda Nyassi.
Hydara himself claimed to have accused himself of acts he did not commit, notably during interviews, with the intention of showing his fellow citizens the cruelty of Yahya Jammeh's regime (1994-2017).
This line of defense was deemed implausible by the civil parties. Baba Hydara, son of Deyda Hydara, said he was "disappointed, insulted and betrayed by Bai Lowe's statement, which betrays common sense".
"The long arm of justice"
The accused is certainly "not the main perpetrator, but the crimes could not have been committed without him", stresses Patrick Kroker, Baba Hydara's lawyer.
For victims' relatives and NGOs, Celle's judgment should serve as a warning to those who committed crimes under the dictatorship.
"The long arm of justice has caught up with Bai Lowe in Germany, as it is already catching up with Yahya Jammeh's henchmen around the world and will hopefully also catch up with Jammeh himself," Reed Brody, a lawyer with the International Commission of Jurists working with the victims, told AFP in an e-mail.
Other ongoing proceedings outside the Gambia include that of Ousman Sonko, former Minister of the Interior, who has been on trial in Switzerland since 2017 for crimes against humanity.
Another of Mr. Jammeh's collaborators, Michael Sang Correa, is due to stand trial in the United States.
While the former president lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea, a country with which Gambia has no extradition agreement, the Gambian government has also begun to work on the 22 years of dictatorship.
In February, it announced that it was working with the Organization of West African States to set up a tribunal to judge the crimes committed under the former dictator.
This is one of the major dossiers on the desk of Adama Barrow, who succeeded Mr. Jammeh at the head of continental Africa's smallest country following a surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election.