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Gambia: Grim tale of torture; man expects to die in captivity

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh (Photo courtesy of AFP and Senenews.com)
Outspokenly anti-gay Gambian President Yahya Jammeh (Photo courtesy of Senenews.com)

By Colin Stewart

A man arrested on homosexuality charges in the Gambia has apparently been tortured and now has been locked in a heavily guarded hospital room where he expects to die, according to an eyewitness and a second source.

In a harrowing account first published by BuzzFeed and then by Gambia’s online Freedom Newspaper of the Gambia, an eyewitness described the perilous condition of detainee Alieu Sarr. According to BuzzFeed:

He has cotton in his nose and he is coughing blood and saying, ‘I know I’m going to die,” said the witness, who was in the public ward of the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital when the man was transferred to Room 1 in the private block, where other prisoners are said to have been murdered under orders from the Gambia’s authoritarian ruler, Yahya Jammeh.

“I feel sorry for the guy. I don’t know if he’s going to make it,” the witness said in a voice shaking with emotion. The witness asked not to be identified out of fear of retribution from the Jammeh regime.

According to Freedom Newspaper:

“Mr. Sarr has been crying on his hospital bed saying that he is going to die. He was tortured while under state custody. He appeared weak and pale,” said our source.

Activist former Gambian official Fatu (Fatou) Camara, now in the United States, said that 12 of about 15 allegedly LGBT people arrested in the recent crackdown in the Gambia have been released.

She also confirmed the eyewitness’s account with another source, BuzzFeed said, adding:

Three allegedly LGBT arrestees in the Gambia appear in this TV report, with their faces obscured. Click the image to watch the video. (Video from Fatu Radio Network via YouTube)
Three allegedly LGBT arrestees in the Gambia appear in this TV report with their faces obscured. Click the image to watch the video. (Video from Fatu Radio Network via YouTube)

“The witness said Sarr’s room is guarded by two armed soldiers. A nurse told the witness that Sarr has not seen a doctor, which Camara said is consistent with the treatment of other prisoners who have been brought to the hospital. Treatment is withheld until ‘instructions’ are received from the regime, she said.”

BuzzFeed added:

The Jammeh government, which has faced criticism for human rights abuses in the West African country throughout Jammeh’s 20-year rule, enacted an “Aggravated Homosexuality Act” in August modeled closely on the sweeping anti-LGBT law enacted in early 2014 in Uganda. Jammeh has also made several statements calling for the elimination of LGBT people, including calling for them to be exterminated the “same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes” last February. Human rights activists fear that he may step up the anti-LGBT drumbeat in response to a coup attempt he survived on Dec. 30.

Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in Washington said that he believed Alieu’s torture was “part of a more sinister plan” by the Jammeh regime. Jammeh government has a pattern of using torture to get prisoners to name others, and he believes this is a sign of a “spreading crackdown.”

Camara, who was accused of treason by Jammeh and witnessed torture of others while in custody, said the regime had a history of transferring prisoners to the hospital’s private blocs before they are murdered. In a 2011 case, she said, a former political ally of Jammeh’s named Baba Jobe was strangled in Room 10 of the private bloc while in the custody of armed guards.

“There are many other stories of people who they take to the hospital and then they would die,” said Camara. She also had been in contact with another person who confirmed the account of Sarr’s condition given by the witness who spoke to BuzzFeed News. …

The United States announced just before Christmas that it was expelling the Gambia from a special trade agreement because of the LGBT crackdown and other human rights abuses. Human rights activists welcomed the move, but said it was long overdue and did not go far enough. On Jan. 23, a coalition of 14 LGBT rights organizations called on the Obama administration to impose a travel ban on Gambian officials including Jammeh, whose family owns a home in the Washington suburb of Potomac, Maryland.

Click here to read all of news stories on The Gambia at 76crimes.com

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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