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German Court Sentences Gambian Death Squad Member to Life in Prison

A German court on Thursday sentenced a Gambian man to life in prison over his participation in a death squad that assassinated opponents of former dictator Yahya Jammeh, including an AFP journalist.

Bai Lowe was convicted of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder for his role as a driver for the hit squad known as the Junglers.

Prosecutors had asked judges at the court in the northern town of Celle to hand a life sentence to Lowe, who denies the charges against him.

The Junglers unit was “used by the then-president of The Gambia to carry out illegal killing orders, among other things” with the aim of “intimidating the Gambian population and suppressing the opposition”, according to federal prosecutors.

The list of alleged crimes includes the 2004 killing of AFP correspondent Deyda Hydara, who was gunned down in his car on the outskirts of the Gambian capital Banjul on December 16, 2004.

Lowe was found to have helped to stop Hydara’s car and drove one of the killers in his own vehicle.

The trial, which began last year, is “the first to tackle human rights violations committed in The Gambia during the Jammeh era on the basis of universal jurisdiction,” according to Human Rights Watch.

The legal principle allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed.

Journalist killing

Hydara was an editor and co-founder of the independent daily The Point and a correspondent for AFP for more than 30 years.

The father-of-four also worked as a Gambia correspondent for the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and was considered a doyen among journalists in the tiny West African state.

In The Point, he wrote a widely read column, “Good morning, Mr President,” in which he expressed his views on Gambian politics.

According to investigations by RSF, Hydara was being spied on by Gambian intelligence services just before his death.

As well as having a role in Hydara’s killing, prosecutors accuse Lowe of involvement in the attempted assassination of lawyer Ousman Sillah, and the murder of Dawda Nyassi, a suspected opponent of the president.

Lowe arrived in Europe via Senegal in December 2012, saying he was seeking asylum as a political refugee who feared for his life under Jammeh.

He was detained on the charges in Germany in March 2021.

‘Long arm of the law’

The evidence against Lowe includes a telephone interview he gave in 2013 to a US-based Gambian radio station, in which he described his participation in the attacks, according to police.

In a statement read out to the court, however, Lowe said he had merely repeated what other people had told him about the facts of the case to illustrate the cruelty of Jammeh’s government.

Jammeh ruled Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years but fled the country in January 2017 after losing a presidential election to relative unknown Adama Barrow.

He refused to acknowledge the results but was forced out by a popular uprising and fled to Equatorial Guinea.

“The long arm of the law has caught up to Bai Lowe in Germany… as it will hopefully soon catch up to Jammeh himself,” said Reed Brody, a lawyer with the International Commission of Jurists who works with Jammeh’s victims.

Lowe is one of three alleged accomplices of Jammeh to be detained abroad, alongside former interior minister Ousman Sonko, under investigation in Switzerland since 2017, and another alleged former Jungler, Michael Sang Correa, indicted in June 2020 in the United States.

The Gambian government itself said earlier this year it was working with the regional ECOWAS bloc to set up a tribunal to try crimes committed under Jammeh.

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