Friday, August 21, 2015

Letters of gratitude to Jammeh are conditions for release of "pardoned" prisoners

"Pardoned"prisoner mug shot 
When the regime of Yaya Jammeh decided to "pardoned" prisoners, we advised caution "not to over celebrate" before the premature celebration became contagious because the release was a scheme designed to placate the international donor community, especially the European Development Fund that held $ 36 million in escrow.

The regime had budgetary gaps the size of the Grand Canyon that can only be filled by the EU funds.  Because the  EU 17-point demands from the Jammeh regime were still outstanding, and most of the demands are related to human rights issues and the condition and treatment of prisoners in Gambia's prisons, Jammeh is left with little option but to relent after a year of foot-dragging.  Gambia's economy is on the verge of collapse.  Extra-ordinary circumstances require extra-ordinary actions.  His prisons were filled to the brink and it was proving challenging for the budget.

The prison authorities admitted that it required D 1,250,000 monthly to maintain the prisoners and the facilities.  Since the EU demands included a request for an estimate of the rehabilitation cost of the notorious Mile II and other prisons, emptying them now could mean release of funds.  Our conclusion then that the scheme was just that, a scheme to access the EU funds and not to correct the deplorable state of the human rights environment.

We are now learning that, in addition to refusing the "pardoned" prisoners travel documents and IDs, as part of the condition of release is to write a letter of gratitude to the Gambian dictator for their release.  Praising Jammeh, his magnanimity and his "act of humanness"  as his former Solicitor General, Pa Harry Jammeh, said in his letter - a letter, his family was reported to have sworn never to stoop so law, especially when the "pardoned" prisoner had already served his entire prison term, and thus saw no reason to "beg" the dictator.  It is now obvious that he would have suffered the same fate as Amadou Sanneh, an opposition leader, whose refusal to conditional release is reported the reason for his continued incarceration.

The  official mouthpiece of the regime, the Daily Observer, has been religiously printing these letters of gratitude and of praise to a dictator that see great propaganda value in these monotonous letters of praise, at least locally, even where it has little or no value internationally.

Letter of praise and gratitude has a long history under Jammeh.  Lang Conteh, a former Central Bank official wrote a letter of praise after he was allowed to return from exile in Dakar.  Mr. Conteh has found himself in court again for stealing.  Magistrate Moses Richards also was required to write a similar letter as condition of release.  In fact, in his case, we have been reliably informed that his letter was drafted by officials for his signature.

Eventually and as stories of the "pardoned"prisoners start to make it to the international press, the prisoner release scheme will be seen for what it really is - a propaganda ploy designed by a desperate regime that is financially strapped, hoping to gain access to the EDF funds.