By Alhagie Jobe
Jailed Gambian opposition leader Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party and 17 others who were convicted and sentenced to three years in jail on Wednesday by a Special Criminal Court in Banjul spend their first night at the maximum security wing of The Mile 2 central Prison.
Mr Darboe and Co were convicted by Nigerian judge Justice Eunice Dada Oshim after been found guilty of six offences relating to the April 16 including unlawful assembly, for “riotously interfering with vehicles”, holding a procession without a permit and disobeying an order to disperse among others. They were all acquitted of one charge of incitement of violence and one other defendant Yahya Bah was acquitted of all charges.
Prison cells and conditions
Upon arrival at the State Central Prison from the court, Mr Darboe and Co were admitted as convicts; each allocated a convict uniform called ‘Jumper’ which they each wore and then escorted to the Maximum Security Wing and each allocated a cell.
The conditions at the prison are so bad especially at the Maximum Security Wing where Mr Darboe and Co are currently kept. The sanitary facilities are very unhygienic; there is never a good food, clean water and bathroom.
Mr Darboe is said to be in Cell No:1 while others were separated in cells No:4 and 5 respectively. There are over 150 one-man cells at the Maximum Security Wing each sized 2M by 1.5M. The cells can only accommodate a mattress and a praying space plus a toilet bucket called ‘Chamber pot’ that the convict used to ease himself after resting hours. Each convict takes away his toilet bucket to pour it and wash it outside at the public toilet during resting hours in the mornings and afternoons.
There is no window for ventilation in any of the cells. The little air that penetrates in the cells comes through the single hole on the door that is created to enable officers to talk to prisoners or see them while on routine inspection when prisoners are inside.
The resting hours for convicts at the Maximum Security Wing starts at 8am and at 11am GMT, everyone is called back to cells until 2pm when the afternoon resting hours starts and for prisoners to take lunch and rest until at 5pm. After prayers at 5pm, everyone is called back to enter his cell and doors are locked until the following morning at 8am.
Amnesty International has described the sentencing as the latest in a continuous chain of violations committed against those who dare to speak out in The Gambia. Its Deputy Regional head in West and Central Africa Stephen Cockburn described the imprisoning of the opposition leaders as not only fragrantly violating their human rights but is also likely to enflame an already tense situation.