By Mustapha Jallow
Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has recommended former Prison’s Director General, David Colley, Operations Commander of Prisons, Ebrima Jammeh (‘chief torturer’), Yahya Jarju, Saikouba Jarju and Muhammed Jabbi both senior prison officers to face trial for torture meted out to prisoners and perpetrating other human rights abuses during ex-dictator Yahya Jammeh’s rule.
The commission also recommends that Malang Tamba be reprimanded for participating in the tortures as well.
The Gambia Prison Service was known for notoriously carrying out cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment to prisoners and detainees under the watch of David Colley and his ruthless leader Jammeh. The ex-Gambian ruler used the prison facilities to punish his opponents or enemies.
The dictator would refer the prison centre as his ‘five star hotel’, a cruelest prison centre (Mile II Central Prisons), where detainees, prisoners or suspected prisoners were administered with severe beatings, inhuman treatment, tortures, including sexual tortures.
The TRRC report shows that the prisoners’ rights were violated by both dictator Jammeh, Prisons DG Colley and other officers – who subjected them (prisoners) to different kinds of torture.
The commission explained that several prisoners and detainees were beaten and tortured inside and outside the premises of the Mile II Prisons. Witnesses who testified before the commission said that a group of senior officers at the prison, in particular Operations Commander, Ebrima Jammeh (alias Chief Torturer), Yaya Jarju, Muhammed Jabbi and Saikouba Jarju meted out these tortures to prisoners.
Malang Tamba, a prison officer, confessed before the commission that he has participated in the torture of at least three prisoners, including Lamin Jah and Soriba Conde.
The TRRC shows that the inhumane practice at the prisons leaves inmates in chains for years, causing paralysis among some prisoners and sometimes leading to death.
Meanwhile, the commission further recommends that the housing facilities in Mile II Central Prison are sub-standard, degrading and not fit for human habitation, saying considering the cost and complications of rehabilitating the facilities, the Commission deems it imperative to build new facilities that are suitable for prisoners in a modern democratic society.
“It is inhumane and cruel to have prisoners sleep in toilets or be jam-packed like sardines. The government should provide enough facilities to cater for the requirements of the prison population,” said the TRRC report.
The commission continue to recommend that Jeshwang Prison for young offenders should be geared towards rehabilitating rather than punishing, adding it should be resourced with recreational, educational and counselling facilities.
For Janjanbureh Prisons, the commission also added it needs rehabilitation, saying the female prison population is small. Hence, it said a proper cell needs to be provided for the female inmates.
“Long periods of pre-trial detention have been a major problem in all the prisons in the country,” said the truth commission report that was earlier submitted to President Barrow now made public.
“The government should put in place a system that will ensure that pre-trial detainees are tried within a reasonable period of time and in a manner respecting all their rights.”
TRRC further recommends that appointments to all positions in the prison service, in particular leadership positions, should be based on merit and appropriate academic qualifications.
It said an approved scheme of service should be developed for the prison service detailing the minimum qualifications for each position and providing all categories of staff equal opportunity to grow in the service without any form of discrimination.
“The existing archaic prison laws should be repealed and replaced with modern and progressive laws that meet the requirements of a modern democratic society and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,” the commission’s report explained.
However, the commission found that dictator Jammeh appointed a Director General with no qualifications to be able to control the prison services, who would thus beholden to him and obligated to carry out his illegal orders such tortures, severe beatings, long detention and other sexual tortures of those who opposed or questioned his rule.
“This was a common occurrence at Mile II Central Prison, and sometimes prisoners who were subjected to this treatment died shortly after being released from confinement. The witness cited the names of other prisoners such as Mamadi Sawaneh, Kebba Jeng and Lamin Ceesay who died in 2015 from similar circumstances,” said a witness who testified before the commission.