London-based International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) maintains that transport union leader Mr Sheriff Diba collapsed and died in police custody after being tortured, contrarily to a statement by Gambian authorities saying he died of Ischemic Heart Disease or coronary artery disease with severe lung and liver congestion.

Reports from Banjul continue to corroborate the ITF story and authorities in the West African nation, referred to as the North Korea of Africa, are yet to release the postmortem report. The UN's International Labor Organization with thousands of signatures that have been gathered demanded authorities to launch a fully independent investigation into the union leader’s death.

Diba and his colleagues were arrested after negotiations with the government over fuel prices stalled.

“Diba’s death and the other arrests have brought fear and suspicion in the ranks of road union activists in Gambia,” said Bayla Sow, the ITF’s Ecowas and Francophone representative. “The government’s prohibition of collecting union dues in stations, now considered as an economic crime, makes trade union activity impossible in the road transport sector.”

Critics of the government accused authorities, including the president Yahya Jammeh, of attempting to get rid of the transport union to have direct access to dues collected from drivers for personal use after funds from development partners were cut short due to rights violations.

The Gambia government has increased by 1000% fees for vehicles entering the country from Senegal leading to a border closure yet to be resolved.

Human rights problems

The UN Special Rapporteurs Report on Torture and Extra Judicial Executions cited the existence of torture and killings in Gambia and rights campaigners continue to accuse Gambian authorities of gross rights violations and denial of civil liberties.

The Gambia government continues to deny the allegations. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mama Fatima Singhateh, said that the government of Gambia has always maintained a commitment to a broad based approach to human rights protection.

Gambia government officials initially said Mr. Diba was diagnosed with malaria and was discharged and rather contradicted themselves when Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said Diba was examined by a private doctor when he also said he was taken to a public health facility, Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (which is the country’s main referral hospital) where those committed to custody receive treatment.