photojournalism

The Gambia – Portraits of Victims and the TRRC update, July 2019

Ya Mammie Ceesay & Alhajie Ceesay, The Gambia ©Jason Florio

First and foremost, in light of the shocking and distressing revelations coming out of the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in The Gambia over the past couple of days, we would like to extend our love and healing thoughts to all of the families who have listened to the testimonies of two men, Lieutenant Malik Jatta, and Omar Jallow (AKA Oya) – who were members of the ex-president, Yahya Jammeh’s assassination squad, ‘The Junglers’ – confess, often in explicit detail, their involvement in multiple killings on the command ex-president Yahya Jammeh; namely, the attendant families loved ones. And, particularly pertinent to our on-going series of portraits and filming testimonies:

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters of a regime’

Excerpt from our recording with Ya Mammie Ceesay & Alhajie Ceesay, mother and father of disappeared Gambian-American businessman, Alhaji Mamut Ceesay: Alhaji returned to The Gambia in 2013 with his friend Ebou Jobe to set up a business, but they were allegedly robbed of their money by National Intelligence Agency (NIA) heads, who later told President Jammeh the businessmen were in The Gambia to overthrow his regime. The two were then allegedly murdered on Jammeh’s command. Much to the family’s dismay, their bodies have never been found.

Ya Mammie Ceesay © Jason Florio

UPDATE FROM TRRC – JULY 2019, OMAR JALLOW (ALIAS OYA), FORMER JUNGLER, TESTIFIES: “WE COVERED THEM UP WITH PLASTIC BAGS AND STRANGLED THEM UNTIL THEY DIE AND BECAUSE YAHYA JAMMEH HAS GIVEN ORDERS THAT WE CUT THEM INTO PIECES, MALICK MANGA AND FANSU NYABALLY CUT OFF THE HEADS OF EBOU AND MAMUD. AFTER COMPLETING THE DIGGING, WE PUT THEM IN THE DITCH AND WE RETURNED TO KANILAI,” HE SAID.

These are just a few of the portraits which we have been working on over the last few years, from the on-going series ‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’. However, all of the people featured here (aside from Imam Baba Leigh) have spent years of anguish, hearing only rumours about what may have happened to their loved ones. Everyone who sat for a portrait graciously allowed us to film them sharing their stories with us – openly and candidly. All of which, without exception, were profoundly heart-rending to hear. The common thread throughout was their utmost need to know the truth of what had truly happened to those who had been disappeared or murdered. And, to find out the whereabouts of their loved ones remains so that they can finally lay them to rest. Only then can the healing process truly begin. Sadly, as events unfold, it is now known that many of the bodies were thrown into wells or buried in unmarked graves.

A man wears a t-shirt with a photo of murdered newspaper editor and journalist, Dedyra Hydara, who was assassinated in 2004 ©Jason Florio

Deyda Hydara, co-founder of The Point newspaper was an advocate of press freedom and a fierce critic of the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who was openly hostile to journalists and the media. On December 14, 2004, he was assassinated in his car by gunmen as he was driving home. Two of his colleagues who were also with him were injured in the shooting 

UPDATE FROM TRRC – JULY 2019: IT TOOK 15 YEARS TO HAVE A CONCRETE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION: “WHO KILLED DEYDA HYDARA?” DISPLAYED ON THE POINT NEWSPAPER FRONT PAGE BANNER SINCE 2004. LT. MALICK JATTA OF THE GAMBIA ARMED FORCES (GAF) AND EX-JUNGLER TESTIFIES: “I SHOT AT HIM… MY COLLEAGUES ALIEU JENG AND SANA MANJANG ALSO FIRED,” HE SAID AT THE TRRC, NOTING THAT THEY WERE ALL QUIET THROUGHOUT THEIR JOURNEY BACK TO KANILAI WITHOUT A SINGLE STOP. THE WITNESS ADDED THAT HE ONLY CAME TO KNOW IN THE FOLLOWING DAY THAT THE PERSON SHOT WAS ACTUALLY DEYDA HYDARA.


Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh ©Jason Florio

#Portraits4PositiveChange

Excerpt from our recording with Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh, wife and son of Haruna Jammeh: President Jammeh allegedly ordered the murder of his cousin (‘brother’), Haruna, after he criticized Jammeh for his abuse of power. Haruna’s sister, Massie, was murdered soon after by Jammeh’s henchmen after she spoke out about her brother’s disappearance. A former member of Jammeh’s hit squad, the ‘Junglers’ now in Germany spoke openly on a Gambian radio station about witnessing the murders.

UPDATE FROM TRRC – JULY 2019, OMAR JALLOW (ALIAS OYA), FORMER JUNGLER, TESTIFIES: ‘ON HARUNA JAMMEH’S DEATH, JUNGLER JALLOW SAID HARUNA WAS ARRESTED AND DETAINED AT THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (NIA) WHERE HE (JALLOW), SANA MANJANG, ALIEU JENG AND SOLO BOJANG PICKED HIM AND TOOK HIM TO KANILAI. “ON OUR WAY TO KANILAI, WE DROVE THROUGH THE BUSH AND SANA MANJANG BROUGHT OUT A ROPE AND ASKED ME AND ALIEU JENG TO TIE IT ON HARUNA’S NECK. WE DID AND HE ASKED US TO PULL THE ROPE, WHICH WE DID, AND HE (SANA) STAMPED HIM ON HIS NECK AND HE DIED.” HE FURTHER CONFESSED THAT HARUNA WAS THEIR FRIEND AND THEY USED TO EAT WITH HIM IN HIS HOUSE, ADDING THE ORDER WAS FROM YAHYA JAMMEH’ THE POINT NEWSPAPER.

LATER, WHEN ASKED WHAT THEY DID WITH HARUNA’S BODY, JALLOW REPLIED: “WE TOOK THE BODY TO THE SAME WELL WHERE THESE GHANAIANS WERE KILLED. WE TOOK HIM TO THAT WELL AND THREW HIM THERE,”

Bintu Tunkara ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Bintu’s mother, Adama Conteh: 13-year-old Bintu, holding her mother’s phone with a photo of her father of Lamin Tunkara – the father she never got the chance to meet. Gambian, Tunkara, was murdered in July 2005 when Adama was 7 months pregnant, with Bintu. They had been married for less than a year. When Lamin first went missing, Adama said “I  searched everywhere – Mile 2 prison, other prisons, police stations, NIA... they warned me to “go home if you do not want any trouble…stay, and you will have trouble”. I did not eat or wash for one week…he (Lamin) loved me, he took care of me.” She searched for over 1 year. ” Despite the many rumours, “I would not accept, nor would his father, that his son, my husband was dead“. 

It later transpired that Lamin was part of a group of almost 50 Ghanaians and other West African migrants bound for Europe who was arrested and slaughtered by the Gambian security forces. There was one sole survivor, Martin Kyere, who has now come forward to testify. “The West African migrants weren’t murdered by rogue elements, but by a paramilitary death squad taking orders from Gambia’s President Jammeh,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Jammeh’s subordinates then destroyed key evidence to prevent international investigators from learning the truth.”

UPDATE FROM TRRC – JULY 2019, CORPORAL OMAR A. JALLOW TESTIFIES: “WE WERE TOLD THEY WERE MERCENARIES,” JATTA SAID, ADDING THAT HE SHOT AND KILLED ONE OF THE MIGRANTS. “I HEARD PEOPLE SHOUTING IN THE FOREST SAYING ‘SAVE US, JESUS.’” JALLOW TOLD THE TRRC THAT LT COL SOLO BOJANG, THE LEADER OF THE OPERATION, TOLD THE MEN THAT “THE ORDER FROM YAHYA JAMMEH IS THAT THEY ARE ALL TO BE EXECUTED.” IT IS BELIEVED THAT LAMIN TUNKARA WAS AMONGST THE GHANAIANS, NIGERIANS, TOGOLESE, AND IVORY COAST NATIONALS WERE UNLAWFULLY KILLED. 

#Jammeh2Justice

Still from 'We Never Gave Up' Imam Baba Leigh, The Gambia - portrait ©Jason Florio
Imam Baba Leigh ©Jason Florio

October 2017 – Excerpt from our recording with Imam Baba Leigh: The imam spoke out against President Jammeh’s proposed execution of multiple prisoners. Leigh was then abducted and tortured, on Jammeh’s orders, and ‘disappeared’ for five months, before being released without charge. ‘Today is the day you die (he said that during his imprisonment he was threatened with death on multiple occasions)… they made me dig a big hole which I was then told to get into. “This is your grave,” they said…and then they buried me up to my neck’ IBL

UPDATE FROM TRRC – JULY 2019, OMAR JALLOW (ALIAS OYA), FORMER JUNGLER, TESTIFIES: “I PARTICIPATED IN THE TORTURE OF IMAM BABA LEIGH, IMAM BAKAWSU (FOFANA) AND ANOTHER IMAM, IN THE TORTURE OF THE 30TH DECEMBER COUP PLOTTERS” HE WENT ON TO SAY “ON THE TORTURE OF IMAM BABA LEIGH AFTER HE (LEIGH) WAS INTERROGATED…, WE WERE ORDERED BY NUAH BADJIE TO TORTURE HIM. WE BEAT HIM USING STICKS, ELASTIC PIPES AND I SAW BLOOD AND BRUISES ON HIM. THE TORTURE LASTED FOR ABOUT HALF AN HOUR.” FOROYAA NEWSPAPER

WATCH

We Never Gave Up – stories of Courage in Gambia’

Fatou Suwaa ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Fatou Suwaa, widow of former army signal officer Mustafa Colley: In 2012 Mustafa was found with a broken neck at the wheel of a taxi he had bought to earn extra money. Reports in the press said General Saul Badjie heard that Mustafa had been discussing the murder of Sergeant Ello Jallow, who had been killed for allegedly having an affair with President Jammeh’s wife. Baji was then instructed by Jammeh to have Mustafa murdered by his hit squad, the ‘Junglers’.

UPDATE: TRRC – JULY 2019 OMAR JALLOW (ALIAS OYA), FORMER JUNGLER, TESTIFIES: STAFF SERGEANT JALLOW ALSO ADMITTED PARTICIPATING IN THE KILLING OF BABA JOBE, NDOUR CHAM, 9 DEATH ROW INMATES, HARUNA JAMMEH (A BROTHER TO YAHYA JAMMEH), MUSTAPHA COLLEY, SAUL NDOW AND MAHAWA CHAM, AMONG OTHERS. (AT MILE2 PRISON) “WE LINED-UP OUR VEHICLES AND NUHA BADJIE AND OUR LEADERS WENT IN AND TOOK OUT 9 INMATES FROM THEIR CELLS,” HE SAID. “WHEN WE GOT TO THE RANGE, WE ALL CAME DOWN AND BROUGHT THEM DOWN ONE BY ONE. WE PUT NYLON PLASTIC ON THEIR HEADS AND COVER THEM UP. WE SUFFOCATED THEM ONE BY ONE UNTIL THEY ALL DIED. THERE WAS ONLY ONE FEMALE WHO WAS TABARA SAMBA,” HE SAID. “AFTER KILLING THEM, WE TOOK THEM TO THE BUSH AND THROW THEM INTO A WELL,”

Visit my website to see more from our on-going series

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’

Watch the testimonies from the TRRC – via QTV’s channel – on Youtube.

All images © Jason Florio / Words by Helen Jones-Florio


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‘Destination Europe’ prints by Jason Florio – ready to ship to ICP, NYC

‘Destination Europe’ award-winning photography© Jason Florio

‘Destination Europe’ ICP- With great thanks, Helene Greenberg-Wyman Contemporary, New York. A selection of 10 photography prints from my long term award-winning body of work ‘Destination Europe’ – documenting the migration crisis in the Mediterranean sea (2015-16) – will become part of the permanent collection of International Centre of Photography Museum (ICP), New York City. 

‘The International Center of Photography (ICP) is the world’s leading institution dedicated to photography and visual culture’

ICP Destination Europe by Jason Florio. Prints donated to the International Center for Photography NYC
Jason Florio – ‘Destination Europe’ – one of the top winners of the Magnum Photography Awards 2017

Cornell Capa founded ICP in 1974 to preserve the legacy of “concerned photography”—the creation of socially and politically minded images that have the potential to educate and change the world—and the center’s mission endures today, even as the photographic medium and image-making practices have evolved. Through its exhibitions, school, public programs, and community outreach, ICP offers an open forum for dialogue about the role that photographs, videos, and new media play in our society. To date, it has presented more than 700 exhibitions and offered thousands of classes at every level. 

ICP brings together photographers, artists, students, and scholars to create and interpret the realm of the image. Here, members of this unique community are encouraged to explore photography and visual culture as mediums of empowerment and as catalysts for wide-reaching social change’

See more from the series on my website: floriophoto.com

JF

Photojournalist & Filmmaker

Behind the scenes – Jason Florio films an interview with a victim of Yahya Jammeh, Essau, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio #Portraits4PositiveChange

Jason Florio is available for assignments, and for image licensing – Contact here

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Spotlight on ‘The Gambia -Victims and Resisters’ Social Documentary Network

Social Documentary Network Gambia Victims
Image © Jason Florio – Gambia-victims and resisters / Social Documentary Network

ZEKE

The Magazine of Global Documentary

ZEKE Awards -To view Jason Florio’s entry: The Gambia – victims, and resistersclick here

The jurors are now reviewing the entries and they will announce the winners by July 1, 2019. Wishing everyone who has entered the competition, the very best of luck. To view all the entries, click here

Social Documentary Network

visual stories exploring global themes

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#Portraits4PositiveChange

Gambia – Victims and resisters of a regime’, also known as ‘Portraits for Positive Change’, is a long-term, on-going body of work in collaboration with Helen Jones-Florio.

From 1994 -2017 President Yahya Jammeh ruled the Gambia, West Africa, as his own personal fiefdom, crushing dissent, and opposition, with brutality.

His personal hit squad and intelligence agency carried out tortures, and assassinations with impunity – journalists were gunned down and disappeared, ministers were jailed, students shot in cold blood, and even his own brother and sister were murdered on his orders. 

With Jammeh’s 2016 election defeat, he went into exile after a standoff with regional forces, and the victims of his regime started to come forward.

So far, over 1000 victims and their families have registered with the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations to share their stories and help build international support to bring Jammeh to justice

This is a work in progress in collaboration with the GCHRV


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Jason Florio is available for assignments, and for image licensing – Contact here

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floriophotoNYC – Twitter

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Press: Le Monde Afrique – In the Gambia, the wounded faces of Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship

Le Monde - #Portraits4PositiveChange Former deputy sheriff, Alagie Sonko was imprisoned after denouncing corruption in his service. ©Jason Florio
Le Monde – #Portraits4PositiveChange Former deputy sheriff, Alagie Sonko was imprisoned after denouncing corruption in his service. ©Jason Florio

Le Monde Afrique Gambia: British photographers Jason Florio and Helen Jones-Florio met dozens of victims of the former president’s regime

“I do not care what you do with my photo or my testimony,” concluded Alagie Sonko after the meeting.  It is the fact that you came to listen to me that did me the greatest good” Alagie Sonko, the GambiaLe Monde Afrique / Romain Chanson

#Portraits4PositiveChange

Portraits for Positive Change forms part of an on-going body of work also known as ‘Gambia – Victims and resisters of a regime’


Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here

floriophoto.com

@jasonflorioio / @floriotravels – Instagram

Jason Florio – Vimeo

floriophotoNYC – Twitter

Jason Florio/Photojournalist – FB

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