Saturday, October 15, 2011

Exclusive: Richards Released Friday

Moses Richards
Moses B. Richards Johnson, 51, a private Gambian lawyer has been released on Friday morning on presidential pardon, The North Bank Evening Standard can reveal.

The District Magistrates' Court in the Gambian capital, Banjul, on Monday September 19, 2011, found Richards guilty of "sedition" and "giving false information" and subsequently sentence him to a prison term of two years six months. 

"On Friday October 14, he was released on a presidential pardon following a letter from the office of the president to the family a week earlier confirming his pardon," according to sources. 

Our sources added: "In fact,  the family received a letter from the office of the president confirming receipt of his apology and subsequent pardon, but he was only released a week later because prison officers say the order was not communicated to them."

"Yes, he was released yesterday morning," confirmed Mr Kemo Conteh, executive secretary of the Gambia Bar Association. 

His trial and conviction angered the bar association of the Gambia (GBA) who went on a sit-down strike for three days when he was charged, accompanied by a press statement condemning the act. After his sentencing, the bar wrote to further condemn the decision of the Banjul Magistrates Court, presided by Alagbe Taiwo Ade, and also went on an indefinite sit-down strike, which "may end Monday following his release."

"It is a universally accepted principle of all civilized societies that an advocate must be allowed to represent his or her client without fear or favour” and that Richards is being punished for discharging “his duties as a lawyer and while under the direct instruction of his client. Richard’s client [Colley] appeared in court and swore under oath that he did indeed instruct Richards to write the said letter. These are the ‘crimes’ for which Richards is being punished,” the Bar said in a press statement. “Once again, The Gambia is portrayed as a nation where the mere mention of the Office of the President is risky. The Gambia Bar Association urges the executive branch of the government to take note.”

The Bar's proposed protest in Banjul on October 10 against the imprisonment of Moses was called off after the Inspector General of Police reportedly "denied them permit to march."
The former Magistrate and High Court Judge had earlier pleaded not-guilty to the two criminal charges brought against by the State earlier this year. The charges emanate from a letter he wrote to the Sheriff of the High Court in Banjul claiming the “office of the President has ordered the Sheriff for a stay of judgement” in a land dispute (involving his client Pa Ebrima Colley) of Jabang village, Kombo North District of the West Coast Region.

Richards's case took a new turn when "he was purported to have written an apology to the Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh a week earlier, begging for forgiveness." Critiques say he "should not have stoop so low, but a member of the bar said Richards had asked them to do whatever possible to take him out of prison."  

In a more controversial move, Richards was also reported to have dissociated himself from the Bar's reaction to his ordeal, in another letter, leaving fears of division among members of the Bar.

Speculations are rife as to whether he was in fact the author of the letter, or ordered for the letter to be written on his behalf, however, a source said "I can tell you that it was not Moses that wrote it", but declined to go into details. 

Meanwhile, Richards could not be reached, so he is not available for comments on his ordeal.

  • Author: Modou S. Joof, is the news editor of The Voice Newspaper, Banjul, The Gambia.

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