Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jammeh MUST provide details of the "pardoned" prisoner release

Lt. Jammeh in 1994

The pardoning of two hundred and thirty four prisoners by one account and two hundred and something by the Minister of the Interior by another account is a significant pointer at what all is wrong with the prisoner pardon deal by the Jammeh regime.

The imprecision of the numbers of prisoners affected for such an important act of magnanimity, as Jammeh would like Gambians and the world to believe, could be a deliberate ploy designed to conceal critical information, such as prisoners actually murdered, executed or tortured that has never been made public. 

Or it could be another sincere act of incompetence.  The regime is known for both deviousness and ineptitude.  We have previously alluded to the fact that it could be a mixture of both. 

Gambians, including the opposition parties, need a host of information and declarative statements from the regime about the scheme but we will not know what is driving the prisoner release train until we start asking the correct questions and to demand more and untarnished information from Yaya Jammeh before we starting writing home about it.  

And here are just a few of the questions swirling in my head:

1. What prompted the regime to suddenly opt for the release of the prisoners as opposed to going with the implied threat issued a week before during his end of Ramadan speak to religious leaders when he suggested that he was seriously considering applying the law relating to murder.   The reason he cited was high murder rate since he extra-judicially executed nine death row prisoner in 2013, even though he did not show evidence to support his claim.  Caution:  Crime data in the Gambia suffer from a poor classification system and poor record keeping. 

From 1. above, we can begin to appreciate the ultimate objective of the prisoner release from the regime's standpoint.  We have cited the economics and the politics driving the train.  The regime may have a different point of view and if so, Gambians and the international community, especially the European Union and the United Nations would like to know.

2.  Why not a comprehensive list of names, DOB, addresses, crimes committed, classification (political vs criminal) and other relevant personal details not available to help in the accounting and identification of each and every prisoner.  Without an officially-sanctioned list with the personal details of every prisoner, there is no way proper accounting of those affected by the "pardon" scheme.

From 2. above, we can also begin to appreciate the importance of compiling a comprehensive list - an indispensable act of rudimentary accounting - for proper understanding of the purpose of the prisoner release scheme.

3.   Conditions attached to the prisoner pardon and their applicability to categories of prisoners.  In Jammeh's 21st Anniversary celebration pronouncement, those granted a pardon included an assortment of criminals that included rapists, murderers, at least one South American drug kingpin and small time drug peddlers, petty thieves and simple common criminals. Sprinkled among these are few civilians who could be considered as political prisoners, namely those wrongly implicated in the 2006 attempted (Ndure Cham's) coup d'etat.

The majority of those released are all military and security officers implicated in previous coup attempts which has led keen observers of the political scene to suggest that the release has more to do with Jammeh's attempt at shoring up a depleted  officer corps by recycling the released officers.

To confirm this fear, Lt. General Lang Tombong Tamba wasted little time in declaring his total and unconditional allegiance under his death to a single individual - never mind the flag and country - a sycophantic display of blind loyalty that guarantees him his old position back as Chief of Defense Staff as soon as he can nurse himself back to fitness.   These tinpot Generals will soon find their way back into a repressive system that continues to prey on defenseless Gambians.

Meanwhile, numerous political prisoners are still languishing in jails across the smallest country on the African continent.  Included among them is Mr. Amadou Sanneh. (no relation) who was railroaded into Mile II in 2014 because of the prominent position he holds in the leading opposition party - United Democratic Party - and someone touted as the preeminent successor to its current leader, has been conspicuously absent from the list of "pardoned" prisoners.  It is claimed in some quarters (despite his apparent ineligibility due to the arbitrary or deliberate cut-off date of 2013)  that his refusal to accept the conditions attached to his release - such as refraining from politics and not to speak ill of the Dear Leader -  that has led to his staying behind at Mile II.  True or false, his continued incarceration will continue to be a source of tension that will serve as a barometer as to whether a political rapprochement is possible.

4.  Full explanation and/or accounting of the whereabouts of the missing, especially  Alhagie Mamut Ceesay and Ebou Jobe, two Gambian-Americans who disappeared while on a visit to their native Gambia.  Chief Ebrima Manneh, Kanjiba Kanji, and a host of other missing Gambian citizens must also be accounted for.

5.  The bodies of the nine executed prisoners in 2013 and those killed on 30th December 2014 must be released to their loved ones.  The families of these men (and a women) must have closure and without Jammeh releasing their bodies to them for proper burial.

6.  All official pronouncements to date and a comprehensive list of released prisoners must be gazetted in the Government Gazette as official notification of the General Public and concerned parties.