From testimonies emanating of realities of the last two decades, doing jail term, in the Gambia amounted to horror.
Twenty-five odd years ago, a group of lieutenants toppled a democratically elected Jawara’s leadership, installing themselves in power in a stretch ending only in 2016.
Arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and other forms of abuse marred Yaya Jammeh’s tenure in a reign of terror sparing not even convicts at the State Central Prison.
Situated close to the capital but away from the suburbs, tales of agony of the treatments meted out to prisoners have this week more than overwhelmed the Gambian public.
The ghastly stories are being unearthed by a truth commission whose fervent obsession to pour our to the surface what obtained during years gone by has forced most to consider giving a rethink of whatever affection they might have had for their former leader now exiled in Equatorial Guinea.
This week, it was the turn to spill the beans of ill-treatments done at the nation’s central prison. Built to reform offenders, the enormous facility, it emerged, turned torture chambers in a shift allegedly engineered by former head of state Yaya Jammeh.
Prison wardens, who witnessed it happen some of them sacked, took turns to appear at the truth commission’s hearing to tell of what they heard, saw or did.
Jammeh had often publicly boasted the central prison is his “five-star hotel” – a statement he used to cow the public into submission, warning any disagreement against his wishes will be met with harsh incarceration.
Aided by a relative of his whom he enthroned as prison boss and who, at a flicker, carried out whatever directives he ordered, wardens testifying to the commission, confessed to Jammeh interfering with the running of the prison services.
In efforts to subdue political foes or anyone he considered posing threat to his reign including, according to some wardens, businessmen, Jammeh the TRRC heard, went to extents of ordering inmates be beaten.
The most graphic of this was narrated last year in which commissioners heard how Yaya ordered his erstwhile Junta vice-chairperson Sana B. Sabally be tortured, fed poo, castrated, impaled with sharp objects and buried thrice to neck-level in inhumane attempts to get him admit to doctored charges, suggesting he tried uprooting him from power.
Ex-deputy boss of Mile Two prison, Lamin Korte, himself victimised by the same department he served, testifying yesterday said porridge was cooked to kill prisoners for over twenty years, despite the department being aware the food was wreaking havoc, causing beriberi and deaths.
Countless inmates have lost their lives as a result amid unsubstantiated reports some were buried behind the prison cells in concealment efforts – a claim officer-in-charge of the prison Fanta Sanneh, today denied knowledge of when giving her version of events during her time at the correction centre.
Of a shock so far was the incident of August 2012 when Jammeh ordered the execution of nine death row inmates -some of them women – through strangulation, as the nation would come to know in recent months after doers of the act, his hitmen, took turns to confess their involvement before the investigating commission.
That aside, prison officers it is held, had their own torture group who battered inmates on the directives of Prions boss David Colley who in turn was directly answerable to Jammeh.
In 2015, a certain prisoner Ebrima Joof was battered and bruised in a circle of pain-inflicting session. Joof, who was locked at confinement number five, the truth body is told, was kicked in ribs by warden Kalilou Sanneh and died two days later. Another prisoner Lamarana Jallow is purported to have been battered by prison officers for fighting with a fellow inmate and died two days later.
Narrating what she knows of inmate deaths, Fanta, a senior female prison personnel said: ” Solo Koroma, (another inmate) as soon as he came to the prison, he started complaining of severe headaches, dizziness just major complaints. We tried giving him medicine. One day, my junior officer called me and said his (Solo’s) symptoms have persisted and he can’t even stand so I told him to make an immediate referral. Then he was evacuated to hospital. If I can remember well, he even underwent surgery but died.
“Madi Garby (another prisoner) died of generalise beriberi. Even in 2016, we were still having cases of beriberi. Bakary Daffeh also died of the same symptoms of beriberi.”
Doubling too as a nurse at the yard’s medic unit, Ms Sanneh confirmed detainees were beaten by officers, adding, an inmate showed her sustained lacerations on his back.
Testimonies on affairs of the prison is expected to continue tomorrow.