Defending the Indefensible!!!
Monday, August 06, 2012
In an interview with this paper in June this year, the commissioner of the Gambia Prisons Services, in no uncertain terms, pointed out that neither the public nor the prisoners should expect prison conditions to be as comforting as conditions in a hotel. The commissioner was quite right, but he should as well accept it as right that public does not expect inmates to be dying like flies.
Moreover, the commissioner did not only rubbished reports of mistreatment and frequent death of inmates, but went further to apparently downplay the degrading and inhumane state of the prisons, as was described in the US State Department’s 2011 human rights report and further confirmed in the global human rights watchdog, Amnesty’s report.
However, recent negative developments at the prisons? actually speak for themselves. In a space of six months, four deaths of inmates at Mile 2, the country’s central prison, situated at the outskirts of Banjul, have been reported.
Although an ex-inmate had told this paper that what is reported by the media ‘is the tip of the ice bag,’ nothing that only the death of prominent persons attract the attention of the media, we would for now limit ourselves to those confirmed by the prison authorities.
In November, a former prominent politician and ally of The Gambian President Yahya Jammeh died under circumstances that remain a subject of speculation. The former majority leader of the National Assembly of The Gambia was almost due for release from prisons when he shockingly died at the RVTH in Banjul where he was admitted for medical treatment.
Baba Jobe’s death followed the alleged late October hunger strike by inmates in the security wing of Mile 2 Central Prison on a protest over the overcrowding, poor hygienic conditions, poor diet, restrictions on the number of visits by family members, failure by prison authorities to comply with medical recommendations from doctors, and denial of access to television and radio. Prison authorities typically denied any hunger strike occurred.
Yet, less than a month after Baba Jobe’s death, a Dutch national who was convicted on charges of illicit drug trafficking also died. Prison authorities insist that the Dutch died of natural causes, but a fellow Dutch inmate complained that his co-convict died of torture.
Furthermore, in June this year, a remanded 63-year-old man, Pa Lamin Darboe, a native of BaddibuSalikeni village in the North Bank region, also died at Mile 2. Family sources confirmed that no post-mortem was conducted on him, thus the cause of his death was not established. He had been undergoing trial on drug-related charges since his arrest in January 2011. He felt ill for a while before his death.
On Sunday July 29, a 47-year-old Nigerian national resident in The Gambia, and married to a Gambian has died. Also caged at Mile 2, late Thomas was convicted only last year for sedition and sentenced to a 3-year imprisonment. Michael contracted both pneumonia and tuberculosis in March 2012, reliable sources said.
All these tragic development go to add weight to earlier reports of the inhumane and degrading conditions of prisons. The evidence is therefore overwhelming. How long will the prison authorities continue to deny the truth and join in the call for prison reforms?