The Bundung Magistrates Court has today found Lasana Jobarteh, an opposition activist of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) ‘guilty’ for the charge of “broadcasting without license using skype’.
Jobarteh, 59, was convicted by Magistrate Isatou Janneh to a fine of 50, 000 Dalasi in default to serve one year in prison. Ebrima Kijera who was set to deliver a judgment after months of hearing int the case “was abruptly transferred to Farefenni, in the Nort bank of the Gambia, on the very week he was scheduled to deliver judgement.
Today, the packed court room were not shocked by the decision to convict, or at least they did not show it. The reaction to the outcome was just like any other usual court day. However, the convict went home after the magistrate upheld his lawyer’s application to extend the bail and suspend the sentence till August 4.
‘The offence is not criminal’
When Mr Jobarteh was announced guilty, his lawyer said the ‘offence’ is not criminal that attracts the punishment provided by the Information Act. “The alleged offence committed is line with a political rally. Certainly the opportunities that avail to the main opponent is not avail to the accused to access information to supporters. This is not an offence of violence and has not impacted negatively on the society,” Mr Darboe maintained.
His arrest followed a major opposition rally in Brikama, where Gambian online radios covered the event using Skype. Radio stations on the ground in gambia do not cover opposition events, neither does the national broadcaster, Gambia Radio and Television Services, where Mr jobarteh was a founding staff member, and member of the management team before being sacked for “political reasons” many years ago.
He was detained for days before being granted bail
Agents of the Natioal intelliece Agency picked him from his house hours after the rally and he was detained for days before being granted bail by the Bundung Magistrate’s court. He was accused of giving information abroad using Skype while attending the opposition United Democratic Party political rallies at Buffer Zone in the Kanifing municipality and Brikama and other places without a broadcasting license. He denied any wrong doing.
His lawyer, Ousainou Darboe, argued that the charge was not appropriately applied as Jobarteh holds no broadcasting station to face such a charge. He applied for the Magistrate to dismiss the charges as his client has “no case to answer”. This was dismissed by the magistrate, who thought that the prosecution has made efforts to prove their case by calling two witnesses and tendering an evidence printed out from an online newspaper, Freedom Newspaper Online.
Magistrate: ‘Accused is found guilty as charged’
“I find that the prosecution has proved its case against the accused person with certainty required by law and the accused is found guilty and accordingly convicted as charged,” Magistrate Janneh announced to the court.
She said the accused is not eligible to broadcast without license. “Being ineligible does not warrant a person to broadcast without the required license. Thus, I hold that the accused person broadcast without the required license and I therefore resolve this issue in favour of the prosecution,” Magistrate janneh said.
She stated that the convict admitted in his statements (voluntary and cautionary) talking to both Freedom and Kibaro online newspapers that were able to link with UDP’s party supporters but was never challenged by his lawyer. “Thus, I find the action of the accused person is within the meaning of the public and the program he transmitted was aimed for reception by the public.”