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Gambia’s Barrow sacks head of notorious prison system

The Gambia’s new president has fired the head of the national prison system, officials said on Sunday, taking aim at a service denounced for alleged abuses under the former regime.

President Adama Barrow on Friday “sacked David Colley, the director-general of the Gambia Prison Service”, a government source said late on Saturday.

The prison service confirmed the news on Sunday.

Colley had run the penitentiary system nearly non-stop since 1997 under Yahya Jammeh, the longtime leader of the tiny West African state who was forced out of power last month after losing an election.

The United Nations and rights groups repeatedly condemned The Gambia’s security services under Jammeh, blaming them for arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings and torture.

They also criticised the sordid conditions and detainee treatment in Gambian prisons, notably at Mile Two, the biggest compound in the country located outside the capital Banjul.

Interior Minister Mai Fatty led journalists on a tour of Mile Two on February 13, revealing concrete cells in almost complete darkness where prisoners lived in squalor, and apologised on camera for the conditions.

Amnesty International said that under Jammeh, “Gambia’s climate of fear was sustained for years through regular arbitrary arrests and detention, as well as routine torture.

“You could never be sure who would be arrested, when or why,” it said in a December statement.

Since effectively taking power late last month, Barrow has rushed to uphold pledges to overhaul those services.

Gambian police arrested the former spy chief, head of the notorious National Intelligence Agency this month. He and eight subordinates have been charged with the murder of an opposition member.

Barrow also appointed a former UN war crimes prosecutor as the country’s new chief justice.

Britain has pledged support for its former colony for justice reform.

Colley, the sacked prison chief, first served under Jammeh from 1997 to 2007, the penitentiary source said.

He was fired in June 2007, then reinstated in 2008.

In January 2012 Jammeh moved him to the interior ministry, then reinstated him as prison services director general in April 2013.

The prison service said Colley would be replaced by Ansumana Manneh, currently the director of another prison, at Old Jeshwang.

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