A man who was arrested in the Gambia was transferred on Monday from a prison to a hospital bearing signs of torture, an eyewitness told BuzzFeed News by phone. On Tuesday, he was transferred to an isolated part of the prison, a move that human rights activists fear my be a prelude to his murder.
"He has cotton in his nose and he is coughing blood and saying, 'I know I'm going to die,'" said the witness, who was in the public ward of the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital when the man was transferred to Room 1 in the private block, where other prisoners are said to have been murdered under orders from the Gambia's authoritarian ruler, Yahya Jammeh.
"I feel sorry for the guy. I don't know if he's going to make it," the witness said in a voice shaking with emotion. The witness asked not to be identified out of fear of retribution from the Jammeh regime.
The man, whose name is Alieu Sarr, is one of at least 15 people who were arrested on charges of homosexuality during a crackdown launched by Jammeh's security forces this fall. Most have been released, according to Fatou Camara, a former spokesperson for Jammeh who now is a human rights activist living in the United States. Camara is in touch with sources in the Gambia and some LGBT people who fled the country when the crackdown began. But Sarr and two others who were shown in a Gambian news report about the arrests are still in the custody of the Gambia's National Intelligence Agency.
The Jammeh government, which has faced criticism for human rights abuses in the West African country throughout Jammeh's 20-year rule, enacted an "Aggravated Homosexuality Act" in August modeled closely on the sweeping anti-LGBT law enacted in early 2014 in Uganda. Jammeh has also made several statements calling for the elimination of LGBT people, including calling for them to be exterminated the "same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes" last February. Human rights activists fear that he may step up the anti-LGBT drumbeat in response to a coup attempt he survived on Dec. 30.
Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in Washington said that he believed Alieu's torture was "part of a more sinister plan" by the Jammeh regime. Jammeh government has a pattern of using torture to get prisoners to name others, and he believes this is a sign of a "spreading crackdown."
Camara, who was accused of treason by Jammeh and witnessed torture of others while in custody, said the regime had a history of transferring prisoners to the hospital's private blocs before they are murdered. In a 2011 case, she said, a former political ally of Jammeh's named Baba Jobe was strangled in Room 10 of the private bloc while in the custody of armed guards.
"There are many other stories of people who they take to the hospital and then they would die," said Camara. She also had been in contact with another person who confirmed the account of Sarr's condition given by the witness who spoke to BuzzFeed News.
The witness said Sarr's room is guarded by two armed soldiers. A nurse told the witness that Sarr has not seen a doctor, which Camara said is consistent with the treatment of other prisoners who have been brought to the hospital. Treatment is withheld until "instructions" are received from the regime, she said.
The United States announced just before Christmas that it was expelling the Gambia from a special trade agreement because of the LGBT crackdown and other human rights abuses. Human rights activists welcomed the move, but said it was long overdue and did not go far enough. On Jan. 23, a coalition of 14 LGBT rights organizations called on the Obama administration to impose a travel ban on Gambian officials including Jammeh, whose family owns a home in the Washington suburb of Potomac, Maryland.