A Gambian union leader who died in police custody after he was remanded on charges of economic crimes, died of natural causes, officials says.
Sheriff Dibba, head of the Gambia National Transport Control Association (GNTCA), died on 21st February 2016 in a private clinic a few minutes after he was admitted there.
He was reported to have collapsed in his cell which he shared with other members of his union. Reports in some online news media suggested that he was tortured and killed by the country’s intelligence services.
But Sheriff Bojang, minister of Information, has denied that the authorities have had a hand in Mr Dibba’s death.
Minister Bojang said Mr Dibba and other union officials “were never picked up or at any point detained by the National Intelligence Agency,” the security service accused by an international union of killing him.
“They were held at the Banjul police headquarters and never remanded at the Mile Two prisons. And while in detention, they were never beaten or tortured,” he said.
The London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has said Dibba died as a result of abuse and torture at the hands of NIA agents.
Mr Dibba had been arrested with several other union leaders after President Yahya 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 Mr Dibba’s death, the minister said the union leader “was a middle-aged man in apparent poor health.”
He added: “On 20th February while under police detention, he complained of being ill and walked himself, accompanied by the police and his relatives, to the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. He was diagnosed with uncomplicated malaria and hypertension and after four hours of treatment, was considered asymptomatic and discharged.”
“The following day, when his illness took a turn for the worse, he was rushed to the Sharab Medical Centre, Kanifing and died shortly after. On 23rd February, a post-mortem examination was carried out on his body and it was established that the cause of death was Ischemic Heart Disease or coronary artery disease.
“The examination also revealed that he had a host of other ailments including severe lung and liver congestion. There was “no evidence of external or internal injury.”
When contacted, the ITF reiterated that Dibba 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 in an email to AFP.
“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 Dibba’s death, a move supported by the UN’s International Labour Organisation.