The sole survivor of the brutal murder of Ghanaians and other nationals in Gambia in 2005, Martin Kyere, has come back to the country for the first time since the incident.
At a press conference on Saturday, Kyere explained how the migrants who were planning to travel to Europe through the Atlantic were round and killed by state agents on the orders of former ruler Yahya Jammeh.
“When I came to Senegal I meet lot of my Ghanaian friends in Dakar who also have the intention of going to Europe. So one afternoon Charles Taylor came to our place with some guys and told us that he has a vessel that takes people to Europe whether we are interested. We said yes. Later he told us that they needed money to buy fuel and some food for us so that we will not suffer in the vessel during our journey. But we told him we will only give him money if we board the vessel. Charles left and later contacted a friend in Gambia by the name Lamin Tunkara who promise to give him money with the conditions that he will send the vessel to Gambia which he did.
“By the end of June he took us to Saly a village in Senegal where he was mobilising people who want to go to Spain. We were there until one Friday they brought a big canoe and boarded 56 of us mainly Ghanaians, Nigerians, Senegalese, Togolese and Ivorian nationals and headed to Banjul with the intention of boarding a vessel but whilst we were coming to Banjul we communicated to the captain of the vessel but at some point in the sea we could not have network to call Banjul. We were just going around until the captain of the canoe saw a light and then told us that light will certainly be Banjul and then he ask us to go there and find network to call the captain. When we landed in Banjul we decided to send six of our guys to go and buy some things and credit so that we can call Charles Taylor but when they came down there was some Navy officers around we heard gun shots and the canoe guy said to us they have killed them. He decided to turn back the canoe from the Banjul port to the beach and that is how the rest of us (50) ended-up in Barra. We left the other six in Banjul wondering what might have happened to them. When we arrive at Barra that morning the canoe return to Dakar and left us stranded there. We decided to send three of our guys to get us credit so that we can contact Charles Taylor to ask him the whereabouts of our other guys but when we contacted him he told us he has not received any information about them”
He continued: “At that point Charles Taylor contacted his friend Lamin Tunkara in The Gambia and ask him to go round from police station to police station to find out if he can trace these guys so that he can grant them bail. Charles instructed the rest of us to find a canoe in Barra and move to where the vessel is so that we can board and go ahead with our journey. We ask three of our guys to go and find the canoe but in the process of looking for the canoe they came across with one boy whose brother was a police officer.
He reported them to his brother so the three were arrested and around 4:30 to 5:am we saw a medium size canoe heading towards where we are with one of our guys. We did not wait for the canoe to land. We jumped in and join the canoe. It was after joining the canoe that the police who were in the canoe told us we were under arrest they took us to the Barra police station. After few hours, a CID Officer came and took our details. Later on the same day some men came for 30 of our guys and brought them to Banjul and around 9pm they came for the rest of us and put us in Navy boats. They started torturing us asking us why came to The Gambia? We thought at that moment they were going to put us in the sea because the way they were beating us was terrible. When we arrive in Banjul we found about 200 soldiers waiting for us with their guns. When we come down from the boat the first man we meet had a long cutlass. If you reach him he will put his cutlass on chest…. and collect all your money. The first 30 who came before us were already beaten beyond recognition… So after 45 minutes a bus came and they pushed us inside the bus and continue beating us until we get to the Bundung police station. They threw us into different cells and locked us there. Two hours later, they came with Lamin Tunkara and took two of our guys. After taking our statements we ask the police officer in charge about our faith, he told us our faith was in the hands of the authorities. The next day which falls on a Tuesday we receive a newspaper from Tunkara’s wife which carries a headline 50 foreigners have been arrested, 8 dead bodies has been found but at that time we were not sure that it was our men. We spend one week in the cell. One night they brought in a big car and took us to a house, tied us with a wire cable and put us in one white pickup and started driving towards the forest. I ask Lamin Tunkara where are this people taking us to? But he told me we should pray that is the time he started speaking his local language to them, but they never listen to him, whiles we were going, one Nigerian started saying ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar’. When they heard him they stop the car and one of them ask who is that? He came down with the cutlass and slashed his neck on the back the man died from those injuries. We continue driving until we reach one village were our pickup knocked a sheep they stopped and put the sheep inside the pickup and move on into the forest. As we are going another man complaint about the wire cable when they heard him complaining one soldier came down and slashed his arm with a cutlass. At that moment everybody in the pickup was screaming God help us. But there was nobody to help us because this men were authorised by Yahya Jammeh to killed us. It was during that struggle that I was lucky to untie myself and then said to my guys I have put my hands off they said to me is God who want to safe you so that you can tell the whole world how we were killed. So at that moment I was confuse, because some of them were telling me to go whiles others were telling me if you jump they will kill us all. So when the pickup was about to stop I jumped out and ran to the forest as I was running I heard them asking what was that but I did not look back. I later heard them shooting and the migrants were screaming all over “God help us” moments later I saw them passing but nobody was in the pickup. After that I spend three days in the forest because I was afraid to go anywhere fearing to fall into another police station in Gambia again. I luckily came across with some farmers in their groundnut farm they took me to one army camp in Cassamnce who later escorted me to Dakar that is how I escaped.”
The press conference was organized by #Jammehtojustice campaign, a coalition of international lawyers and human rights organization that are campaigning to bringing Jammeh to justice.
A lead lawyer for the campaign is Reed Brody. Other players in the campaign who participated in the press conference include the Victim Centre, Human Rights Watch and Trial International.