By Sarjo Bayang
From the lips of Interior Minister Ousman Sonko all pardoned prisoners are under close watch and liable to arrest. Recently pardoned prisoners by presidential prerogative of mercy could no longer smile with hope of absolute relief. They are subject to arrest any time sooner and bound over peace for next ten (10) years; going by warning of Interior Minister Sonko.
Stay out of politics to avoid being arrested
Just before they are permitted going home, prisoners recently pardoned by Gambian president Yaya Jammeh have been warned about risks of arrest and further detention. That was the message delivered by Interior minister Ousman Sonko who bluntly told the purported pardoned prisoners one of the conditions for their release is that they must stay away from political activity.
According to Interior Minister Ousman who laid the condition with great authority, all released prisoners will be constantly monitored for their political activity. Without mincing his words Minister Sonko made it clear that the pardoned prisoners will be rearrested and charged by any occasion they engage in political activity. That of course includes talking about their ordeal.
Still state prisoners at home
Given 10 years before they can exercise basic rights of choice in politics, all prisoners in Gambia released on presidential pardon are still not free enough.
It is one thing to be free from the confines of prison walls. Worse still, being kept as mental prisoner can be more tormenting. In practice none of the pardoned prisoners can express their dislike for Yaya Jammeh after keeping most of them in detention unlawfully without legal due process.
Deep in their minds, those that Jammeh detained unlawfully will hardly appreciate even this move he calls presidential pardon.
Curious observers conclude that all those prisoners released by presidential pardon remain under house arrest taking into account what the Interior Minister warned.
Jammeh is seen as the offender needing to seek pardon
Talk around the country has it that rather than saying he pardons prisoners and critics outside the country Jammeh is the one offending everyone. It is therefore him needing to seek pardon from entire Gambian population especially those he arrested by his whims and caprices, keeping them in custody without lawful occasion.
It is not certain if any of those recently released by Jammeh’s sinister pardon will take legal action against him and claim compensation.
Of course some of those affected by unlawful detention and recently released will line up to get employment from their tormentor Yaya Jammeh. They are made financially drained and morally crippled by a president sworn to protect everyone.
Jammeh fails to impress even after release of more than 200 prisoners
Most people are not impressed by this recent prisoner pardon that Jammeh thought he was making political scores in his count.
Conflicting views are expressed about real motive of this whole matter. There is talk about Jammeh under pressure from donor agents. Other views include how Gambians abroad continue pressing harder through social media and demanding Jammeh to step down.
Only few people believe that this prisoner release by presidential pardon is anything genuine. Jammeh is known for playing around with a bag full of tricks and this time many believe he is up for another game of cards.
The hunt for released prisoners rages on
Soon after releasing some prisoners not too long ago, security personnel have been on the rampage arresting those who thought they finished their prison term and at home with families. It emerged that the president pardoned them claim it was a mistake according sources close to him.
Before they could round up all the discharged prisoners for a recall to detention, some of them decided leaving the country soon after stepping out of prison gates.
Pardoned prisoners leaving the country for their personal safety
Going by that experience several of those prisoners released by presidential pardon are said to have fled the country for fears they may be arrested like those before them recently.
Considering the threat of possible arrest especially when the responsible state minister for prison affairs already placed as a condition that in next 10 years their words and actions will be vigilantly scrutinised, fleeing persecution is highly expected.
Government induced terror on citizens
Fear and tension combined remains the experience in Gambia. Just like Libya under Gaddaffi or Iraq under Saddam Hussein, ordinary people of Gambia live in perpetual fear.
It is not the regular criminals causing so much fear. Government of Gambia has organised crime rings operating all around the country. They pose as underground security personal who arrest, torture, and cause so much tension in society.
Evidence of government induced terror can be seen clearly from the way state minister Ousman Sonko so arrogantly addressed those said to be pardoned. He did so with utter contempt. How can a state minister in such responsible position threaten released prisoners that they will be arrested for exercising their political rights?
What the Interior minister Sonko did is act of terror about which he deserves to be impeached. For Yaya Jammeh to condone such act of barbarism committed by a state minister without subjecting him to regulations, that goes to confirm the two of them are playing same tune.
Gambians are living under state of terror routinely and this prisoner pardon is more of an insult if freedom from prison does not include unconditional exercise of political rights including open rejection for a president subjecting citizens to unlawful arrest and prolong detention without trial.
Keeping dead bodies of slain captives and detaining their families
Biggest elephant under the bed that everyone talks about in Gambia is how President Yaya Jammeh killed those accused of plotting to overthrow him on 30 December 2014 still keeping their dead bodies.
For more than six months family members including parents of these slain persons have been detained without trial.
According to what people are saying it does not make sense for president Yaya Jammeh to declare he released the family members of his slain victims while still refusing to hand over their dead bodies for decent burial more than six months.
Even where all the prison population of Gambia receive pardon and released by orders of the president keeping those dead bodies for so long is disgusting. Before those killed on 30 December 2014 Yaya Jammeh previously executed nine (9) prisoners and still failing to hand over their dead bodies for decent burial. On 11 November 1994 several soldiers were also murdered cold blood and their bodies not handed to families. Later on word has it that they were buried in unmarked mass graves.
Adding everything up popular opinion is that Jammeh has to step down or get unseated by any means. That is what right thinking Gambians share over social media or during private conversations regularly.
Those who want to see Jammeh out argue that he already overstayed amid failed promises and ruthless tyranny. Apart from economic crime and arbitrary rule fear in Gambia is derived from rampant killings carried out by Jammeh and his agents. They do it in various ways. “Jammeh must go” is very frequently expressed by Gambians on social media.
On wider scope of reasoning it can be concluded that Presidency of Gambia is the most battered prisoner in longest years. That is because since after 22 July 1994 Gambian Presidency has been under custody of Yaya Jammeh who refuses acting according to duty while imposing his whims and caprices to dislike of most people even outside Gambia.
When Jammeh is out of Gambian presidency that will be seen biggest prisoner release everyone longs for. For now the presidency is under custody as prisoner of tyranny.