By Nelson Manneh
An ex-retired prison warden, Lamin Korta on Tuesday, 9th June 2020 said former President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh was interfering in the country’s prison services.
Korta testified before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission in Kotu about prison services under Jammeh’s 22-year reign.
He said ex-Director General of Prisons David Colley was very instrumental in carrying out Jammeh’s orders. He said both David and Jammeh used to call politicians big fish whenever they were arrested and detained.
The 61-year-old said he was aware of the relationship that used to exist between David and Jammeh.
He said prisons should be a place for correction of persons who have been found guilty by a competent court for wrongdoings. He said between 1994 and 2017, the Gambia prisons were turned to torture centers.
He said former President Jammeh was interfering in their work as he used to make executive orders which they used to act upon. He said ex-President Yahya Jammeh used to put people in the Prison just to punish them there.
He said if Jammeh wanted to punish any Politician, big businessmen and that he used to take them to the prison (his five-star hotel).
The witness said up to 1994, they had two categories of Prisoners which were the Remand Prisoners and Convicted Prisoners.
He said before 1994, anybody taken to the prison whether the person was a Remand Prisoner or a Convicted Prisoner, he/she was escorted by a policeman or woman with relevant documents before he or she was admitted into the prisons. He said for someone to be put in prison, the officer who escorted the person must produce a convict warrant or a remand warrant.
Korta said the Security wing has different rooms and sometimes some convicts are taken to the security wing.
He said the current Manager of Gamtel was detained without any document and Ousman Jammeh, a former Secretary General of the Gambia during Jammeh’s regime was also detained without any document.
The witness said prisoners should not be outside the prison by 5pm except the gardeners, for them they can stay outside up to 6pm.
“The removal of prisoners after 5pm is a violation of their human rights” the witness told the commissioners.
He said sometimes prisoners were taken into the prisons after midnight.
“The conditions of the cells at Mile 2 was not good and the cells sometimes contained twice more than the actual number it should take,” he said.
He said the situation of the cells at Mile 2 was very terrible. He said each cell has slabs and the number of slabs in the cell should determine the number of prisoners that it can contain.
He said to be at the security wing was better than being in the Remand Wing adding sometimes prisoners who were not even convicted will demand to be taken to the Security Wing even though it has one man cells.
It is an entitlement for every prisoner to be given a mattress, and bed sheet but that was not the case there.
“Sometimes some prisoners changed food for bed sheets,” the witness said.
“Looking at the location of Mile 2 it is located inside the mangroves and it is true that there are mosquitos and rats there,” he said.
He said now with this change of government the prison is sprayed with chemicals by health officials from the Ministry of Health and it used to happen before 1994 and at the beginning of 1995 but after that he has no knowledge about it. He said the fans in the prisons were installed after the change of Government.
The witness said the rice cooked at the prison was better but the ‘Pap’ was not good at all.
“Prisoners don’t eat the pap because it is the one that causes the swelling of their legs,” he said.
He said the food is shared according to the number of prisoners in a cell.
“You cannot say the quality of the food is up to standard because the food you eat when you are at home is different from the one you are given at the prison,” he said.
The witness said he cannot confirm whether beriberi was actually killing the inmates, but was quick to add that he was told that some people died in the prison as a result of beriberi.
“Many prisoners died because of the Pap and the management knew about it because the prisoners complained about it to them”, he said.
The witness said one Musa Suso was the first prisoner who was pardoned and released from prison and got rearrested after which the pardon was revoked and was taken to jail again.
“When his pardon was revoked they used to take him to the Banjul Highway to clear the place,” he said.
The witness said Musa Suso was not only humiliated but was also transferred to Janjanbureh Prison because in those days if you are taken to Janjanbureh you work at the ‘farros’ (rice fields).
He said at the Mile 2 Prison, every officer has his or her responsibility and for them they prepared the list of the prisoners who should be taken to court and those who should go to the hospital and the list is given to the operation commander.
He said the Operation Commander and David Colley used to take the final decision on who should go to the hospital or not.
Mr. Lamin Korta was born on the 28th March 1958 in Kartong Village, Kombo South – West Coast Region of The Gambia.
He attended Kartong Primary school then to Latrikunda Technical Secondary School. Mr. Korta Joined The Gambia Prison Services on the 1st August 1977. Korta said at that time The Gambia Prison Services was under the Ministry of Health and after the 1981 coup, it was transferred to the Ministry of Interior. In 1982, the witness said he left the Prison Services because he had some difficulties there and in 1983 he picked up another job.
“I also worked with the World View International as a field worker in 1992.When that project faded out, I joined the Transport Services” he said.
Mr. Korta said in 1996, he was approached by some Prison Officers who told him that the Prison Service has changed and he can return there an offer which he accepted and returned.
“I was among the first to be trained in the Gambia Prison Services when we were 36 and we were trained at the Depot. Out of the 36 some died, some left and only 2 of us remained. One of my batch mates is called Thomas Jarju,” he said.
The witness said he knew David Colley when he joined the system in 1977, adding David was not ‘in uniform’ at the time.
“There was a cafeteria there and David Colley was the one selling there. When I left and came back, I met David Colley with the rank of a Sergeant in the system,” he said.
He said in those days, people were just picked from the streets and put in the system.