Relatives of people murdered under the regime of The Gambia’s former ruler, Yahya Jammeh, have expressed outrage over the release of three self-confessed assassins.
The men, who were members of a paramilitary unit known as the “Junglers”, were freed from army custody two weeks after appearing before the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
The three soldiers – Malick Jatta, Omar Jallow and Amadou Badjie – have been under detention since their arrest by the military police in 2017 when President Adama Barrow took office after winning elections in December 2016.
His government set up the TRRC which is investigating human rights violations alleged to have been committed during Mr Jammeh’s 22-year rule, including reports of extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detention.
During the hearings, the three assassins accused the exiled president of ordering numerous murders including the notorious 2013 killings of two US-Gambians and a veteran local journalist Deyda Hydara.
Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou has defended the decision to release the three, saying it would encourage other human rights violators to testify.
“The TRRC is not a court of law and one of its primary objectives is to establish the truth,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.
“What we must not do is to scare people away from telling the truth because that will not be in anyone’s interest.”
But Mr Hydara’s son Baba said it has been hard for the family, who have been seeking justice for 15 years, to hear about the hit squad.
He told the AFP news agency that the testimony from Mr Jatta particularly affected him: “How it was planned, how he explained it, it’s like they did their homework. They studied. They really did research on how and where to hit him… it was very premeditated.”
“We are appealing to the government to make sure that these confessed killers are not in our streets, are not in our communities,” Reuters quotes him as saying.
News of the three soldiers’ release has caused a public outcry, not just from relations of the victims, journalist Saikou Suwareh Jabai told BBC’s Newsday.
But he said the TRRC is proving a healing process for The Gambia, helping victims and their families find closure.
Mr Jammeh is now living in exile in Equatorial Guinea. He was forced from office in January 2017 after regional powers sent in troops when he refused to give up power.