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Probe demanded after Gambia union chief dies in jail


President Yahya JammehAn international transport union demanded Sunday that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh open an investigation following the sudden death in custody this week of a trade union leader.

Sheriff Diba, head of the Gambia National Transport Control Association (GNTCA), died on February 21 while in detention at the Two Mile prison where he was taken with eight other union leaders earlier this month.

In a letter addressed to Jammeh, the London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) expressed “grave concern” over his death, saying it appeared to be connected to brutal treatment at the hands of the Gambian intelligence services.

“According to several sources, Sheriff Diba’s death was reportedly as a result of abuse and torture received in the offices of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA),” ITF secretary general Steve Cotton wrote.

The ITF demanded Jammeh set up “a national commission of inquiry including members of the GNTCA union in order to determine the exact circumstances of the death of Sherrif Diba.”

The ITF said the incident began earlier this month when Gambian trade unions asked the president to lower fuel retail prices in line with the fall in wholesale prices. In response, Jammeh banned union activities and arrested several union leaders, including Diba, it said.

On February 21, Diba collapsed at Banjul police station and was rushed to a private clinic, where he died some 30 minutes later, medical sources and the ITF said.

“He was gasping when he arrived at the clinic. The medical team consisting of a male doctor and nurses tried their best to save his life but were unable to resuscitate him,” the medical source said.

On February 11, Diba and the other union officials were brought before a judge on charges of “economic crimes” following allegations they had unlawfully imposed tariffs and charges on drivers between 2006 and 2015, thereby harming the economy.

Gambia, a former British colony, is a small enclave inside French-speaking Senegal. Jammeh, 50, a military officer and former wrestler from a rural background, has ruled this tiny west African country with an iron fist since he seized power in a coup in 1994.

He has since been reelected four times.

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