Almost 100 prisoners have been freed from Gambian jails as the new government starts to sweep up some of the legacy of the old regime. It has also promised to establish a truth and reconciliation commission.
The new president, Adama Barrow, pardoned prisoners from three different jails, two weeks after he pardoned 174 other prisoners, a government source told the French news agency AFP on Friday.
The 22-year rule of former President Yahya Jammeh, which ended in December, was marred by clampdowns on dissenters, disappearances and detention without trial. The tiny West African nation has been in the spotlight for violations of human rights for over two decades.
“The Prison high command Thursday released 98 prisoners who were held at Mile Two, Old Jeshwang and Janjanbureh prisons. They were discharged on the directive of President Adama Barrow,” the source said.
Rapists, robbers and burglars
Among the freed prisoners were rapists, robbers, burglars and people convicted for firearms offences, the source added. Sixteen were foreign nationals from Senegal, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
A prison officer at the country’s most notorious jail, Mile Two, said Barrow may have been forced to act after Interior Minister Mai Fatty pledged recently to build facilities in line with international norms after shocking footage emerged of prisoners kept in dark and bare concrete cells.
The same source confirmed Friday that the former head of Gambia’s prisons under Jammeh was being investigated in connection with the disappearance of a former head of Gambian intelligence who was accused of plotting a coup.
“(David Colley) is being investigated in connection with the disappearance of an ex-director general of NIA, Daba Marenah, and senior military men who went missing in 2016 after President Yahya Jammeh accused them of trying to overthrow his government,” the source said.
A broken system
The Gambia’s prison system is heavily overcrowded and has long relied on strict mandatory sentencing, with even first-time offenders handed down sentences without parole under the former regime of Yahya Jammeh.
The new government has vowed to overhaul unsanitary penitentiaries they say are unfit for their purpose.