Published September 19, 2012
Two American citizens who had been imprisoned in Gambia are back on U.S. soil. They were escorted to New York by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"This release means the door has been opened," Jackson told Fox News. "This is a tremendous opening for new life and new hope."
Amadou Janneh and Tamsir Jasseh's release from prison, exit from Gambia, and return to the U.S. is thanks to long running efforts by the U.S. State Department and this week's face-to-face negotiations between Jackson and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.
Janneh and Jasseh first found out Jackson had secured their release through local news reports on television at Gambia's "Two Mile" prison.
"The news said Reverend Jackson had secured the release of two American citizens," Jasseh told Fox News after their release, "And I knew who those two were!"
For Janneh, the news came on his 50th birthday. "Hope and dream," he said while sitting with Jackson after his release.
Both Janneh and Jasseh were born in Gambia but chose to become American citizens after studying and working in the states.
Janneh moved to the U.S. in 1983. He earned his BA at Knoxville College in Tennessee and then went on to get his MA and PHD at the University of Tennessee. He then taught political science and African studies at the University of Tennessee. He became a citizen in 2003.
"I was living there. I was contributing," Janneh said. "I wanted to have a voice."
Janneh later returned to Gambia and served as the government's director of communications. He left in 2005 to start his own IT company and launched the website ChangeGambia.org.
He was arrested in 2011 for printing tee-shirts with anti-government slogans like "End Dictatorship Now." He was accused of treason and making contact with foreign intelligence officers and was sentenced to life in prison for treason. He served 15 months.
Jasseh moved to the U.S. in 1983 to study at Georgia State University and then joined the United States Navy. He served in Saudi Arabia from 1990 to 1991 and stayed with the Navy until 1996, when he became a U.S. citizen. He was the offered a job working for the Gambian police. He accepted and eventually became the country's director of immigration.
Jasseh was arrested for driving a man suspected of trying to overthrow President Jammeh's government.to the Senegal border. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He had served more than 6 years in prison before his release.
Inside, Gambia's "Two Mile" prison, the men were locked up 20 hours a day in 4-by-8 foot, mosquito infested cells.
"We had no toilet, only a pot," Janneh told Fox News. "And we had to clean it ourselves," added Jasseh.
When asked what will be the first thing he will do when he returns to the U.S., said "I'll probably go to McDonald's."
"Two Mile" prison is home to Gambia's death row, which has been the focus on international attention over the past month.
In August, President Jammeh announced a plan to execute all 46 of Gambia's death row inmates. It was his answer to stemming Gambia's climbing crime rate.
Nine were killed by firing squad on August 9th. Janneh heard one of those executed screaming as he was grabbed from his cell without warning.
"I heard him say my name," Janneh remembered, "He said 'Amadou, Amadou! They are going to kill me!'"
Since then, President Jammeh has decided not to carry out the executions of the remaining 37 death row inmates, and since the release of Janneh and Jasseh, the President has also pardoned two Gambian prisoners. One was a soldier, accused of stealing a goat. The other is the country's former Secretary General who was accused of stealing $700.