BANJUL – Gambia’s information minister has denied reports that a trade union leader was tortured and killed by the country’s intelligence services, saying the man died of natural causes.
Minister Sheriff Bojang told AFP that the president of the Gambia National Transport Control Association, Sheriff Diba, and other union officials “were never picked up or at any point detained by the National Intelligence Agency [NIA]”, the security service accused by an international union of killing him in late February.
“They were held at the Banjul police headquarters and never remanded at Mile 2 [prison]. And while in detention, they were never beaten or tortured,” Bojang said.
The London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has said Diba died as a result of abuse and torture at the hands of NIA agents.
Diba had been arrested with several other union leaders after President Yahja Jammeh banned union activities when they asked him to lower fuel retail prices in line with the fall in wholesale prices in early February.
In the first public comments by such a senior official since Diba’s death, the minister said the union leader was “diagnosed with uncomplicated malaria and hypertension” but discharged after falling ill in custody on February 20.
His illness “took a turn for the worse” and he died the next day, Bojang said. A post-mortem carried out on February 23 found that Diba had heart disease, diabetes, and lung and liver problems, he added. There was “no evidence of external or internal injury,” he said.
When contacted, the ITF reiterated that Diba had been tortured, describing Bojang’s denial of the intelligence service’s involvement as “sophistry”.
“They claim that cause of death was malaria, we refute this,” said Sam Dawson of the ITF.
“Local information was that following his arrest he was interrogated by the NIA, and that his body showed injuries sustained from that interrogation,” Dawson added.
The ITF has called for a national inquiry into Diba’s death, a move supported by the UN’s International Labour Organisation.
Jammeh, 50, a military officer and former wrestler from a rural background, has ruled with an iron fist since he seized power in a coup in 1994. He is seeking re-election for the fifth time this year.