Gambia’s former dictator Yahya Jammeh calls it his free five-star hotel, where his opponents and anyone that poses a threat to his brutal rule can stay for free. It is Mile II, one of Africa’s deadliest prisons, in the outskirt of the country’s island capital, Banjul.
The facility was on Monday visited by Interior Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty, Justice Minister Aboubacarr Baa Tambadou and prisoner rights activists and former Information Minister Amadou Janneh, who were in tears after at the end of their visit.
In 2014 the government invited UN special rapporteurs investigating reports of torture and extrajudicial execution to visit. After the UN special rapporteur team arrived, the government denied it access to the security wing of Mile II Prison.
The condition in the mosquito-plagued prison is inhumane and for the most part, it was overcrowded. Mile II Prison, which had an intended capacity of 450 inmates, held 536 prisoners and detainees, including six women.
Interior Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty vowed to institute broad reform of the prison system, as he made an inspection visit to the facility.
“We have to make sure people who are entrusted to us through the judicial system are properly looked after, and we must comply with the law,” Fatty said. “Prisoners are Gambians and non-Gambians but they are also human beings. And so they should be treated humanely.”
Fatty said the rule of law particularly the protection of the fundamental rights of the citizen “must be at the very core of our prison and detention facilities.”
“That is something I would ensure happens,’ he said.
The justice and interior ministers spoke with prisoners who reported were beaten, a situation that Gambian authorities say they will not accept.
They have pledged to look shift from just punishment to how delinquents can be rehabilitated and reformed to become responsible citizens when they are released.
Inadequate sanitation, food, water, as well as torture are rife in the prisons. The ventilation system is poor and many prisoners died of malnutrition and food poisoning.
A U.S. State Department report says the prison conditions are poor with overcrowded, damp, and poorly ventilated cells and inmates complained of poor sanitation and food.
During the summer months, temperatures were extremely high, and there were no ceiling fans or other measures to reduce heat. Amadou Janneh complained in court that the roof of his cell leaked.
“I’d be soaked,” he said.
Gambia’s longest serving Interior Minister Ousman Sonko, a strong henchman for Jammeh is being detained by Swiss authorities for crimes against humanity and former prison director, Lt. Gen. Bora Colley is also being held authorities in neighboring Senegal.
(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Writing by Mustapha Darboe)