Guard of Gambian ex-president Jammeh gets life in jail for murder

MUNICH/BANJUL (Reuters) -A German court on Thursday sentenced a driver in the elite guard of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to life in prison for crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder that led to the death of a journalist and two other opponents of his rule.

The conviction is a rare piece of justice for victims under Jammeh, who took power in a 1994 coup and ruled with an iron fist until he was forced out of Gambia by regional forces in 2017 after refusing to accept defeat in an election.

Jammeh has been accused of mass killings, dumping bodies in wells, falsely claiming to have a herbal cure for AIDS, and for rape. He has not publicly commented on the allegations. He is living in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

German prosecutors said last year when they filed charges against the driver that he was a member of Jammeh’s elite guard known as “the junglers” between 2003 and 2006.

They said the driver, identified as Bai L. in line with German privacy rules, on three occasions drove officers to locations where they fired on opponents of Jammeh.

Bai L. denied any involvement in the regional court in the German city of Celle, a spokesman for the court said. The verdict can still be appealed.

Germany recognises universal jurisdiction for serious crimes, allowing Bai L. to be tried there even though the offences happened in Gambia.

The Celle court convicted him for his role in the murders of at least three of Jammeh’s opponents, including journalist Deyda Hydara shot dead in 2004 on the outskirts of the capital Banjul, and an attack on a lawyer in 2003.

His son Baba Hydara welcomed the verdict as a milestone paving the way for “many more people to be held accountable”.

Reporters Without Borders said it was the first criminal trial relating to crimes against humanity under Jammeh’s rule.

“This trial is an important sign for the people of Gambia,” Nicola Bier, a legal adviser for the non-governmental organisation, said.

Gambia’s government said last year that it would seek to prosecute Jammeh for killings and other suspected crimes from, following a recommendation from a truth and reconciliation commission.

(Reporting by Joern Poltz in Munich and Pap Saine in Banjul;Writing by Sofia Christensen;Editing by Alexander Winning and Alison Williams)