Family members, sympathisers and friends of Solo Sandeng, who died in custody in April 2016 after his arrest for leading a peaceful protest for political reform, made the demand outside the Banjul court where the men’s trial opened Monday.
“We need a death sentence” the crowd chanted, also shouting “you bastards have killed all our important people,” as the courtroom filled to capacity for the case.
The main target of their anger is Yankuba Badjie, who headed the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which rights groups say carried out arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances and torture during ousted strongman Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule.
The NIA’s former director of operations, Saikou Omar Jeng, is also among the nine men who have denied killing Sandeng, a prominent member of the United Democratic Party (UDP).
Gambian President Adama Barrow was treasurer of the UDP, then the largest opposition group in the west African country, until he was selected to lead a coalition of parties in a December election that he won in a shock victory over Jammeh.
Foreign minister Ousainou Darboe still heads the party, and was himself arrested and briefly jailed after demanding answers over Sandeng’s death.
An effective moratorium on the death penalty in The Gambia was broken when Jammeh ordered nine prisoners be executed without warning in 2012, and it remains to be seen whether the new government will make use of the measure, especially in judging Jammeh-era crimes.
An extension was granted on Monday to state prosecutors to find a foreign expert to re-examine Sandeng’s body, and the case will resume on March 27.