DAKAR (Reuters) - The head of the United Nations labor agency ILO has urged Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh to investigate the death of a trade union leader allegedly killed by intelligence agents, a spokesman for the agency said on Thursday.
Rights group accuse Gambian authorities of multiple violations, although Banjul denies a deterioration of civil liberties under Jammeh, one of Africa's "big men" who has been in power for two decades and will seek re-election this year.
Sheriff Diba fell foul of authorities in the tiny West African country after his union lobbied Jammeh for a reduction in retail fuel prices, according to the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) which represents him.
He was arrested last month and died on February 21 in Mile 2 prison after being beaten and tortured by members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the ITF said, citing local sources who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
"The ILO director-general (Guy Ryder) has expressed his deep concern urging the government to carry out an independent inquiry into the circumstances of Sheriff Diba's tragic death," International Labour Organisation spokesman Hans von Rohland said in an email to Reuters.
Gambia's Information Minister Sheriff Bojang was not immediately available for comment on Thursday. Officials have previously said Diba died of malaria.
Amnesty International echoed the ILO's call for an investigation into Diba's death and for Gambia to uphold freedom of association. Diba's union the Gambian National Transport Control Association has been dissolved by presidential order, according to the ITF.
ITF officials say they are also considering filing a complaint against Gambia with the Banjul-based African Commission on Human and People's Rights or with the U.N. Human Rights Committee over the incident.
Separately, rights groups this week called for Gambia to free a sick journalist whom they say was arrested by the NIA in July 2015 and charged with sedition.
Alagie Abdoulie Ceesay is currently held in the Mile 2 Prison where Diba was also detained.
U.N. rights officers were denied access to its security wing in 2014 while former prisoners have complained of a lack of access to medicine and lawyers.
Editing by Dominic Evans