Gambian authorities have suspended visits to state prisons until further notice, canceling all scheduled appointments for the media in the process, a move that is sure to be criticized by rights campaigners.
The government, which came to power just a year ago enjoys support from activists, who had campaigned to help elect President Adama Barrow.
“This was Jammeh’s way of punishing prisoners as well as Gambians from the diaspora planning to meet jailed loved ones and friends during the holiday period,” said political activist and former government minister, Amadou Scattred Janneh.
The Prison Department has not issued a statement explaining the decision behind the closure but it is no secret that prison conditions were poor, and authorities could face scandalous criticism from Diasporans that may be visiting the facility.
Prison cells were overcrowded, damp, and poorly ventilated. Inmates complained of poor sanitation and food, and occasionally of having to sleep on the floor.
Medical facilities in prisons were poor, and authorities sent sick inmates to a hospital in Banjul or nearby health centers for examination and treatment.
Former inmates and human rights groups reported a high prisoner-mortality rate. Reports indicated prisoners died of neglect or lack of access to health care. During the summer, temperatures in cells became extremely high, and there were no measures to reduce heat.
It is not clear if these conditions have improved but the Barrow administration has pledged to fix the situation. It has instituted a reforms commission, which includes activists, gave access to rights groups and released hundreds of prisoners, including political detainees.