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'Crushing political dissent'? Gambia to execute every prisoner on death row

Simon Maina/AFP-Getty Images

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh arrives at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 15.

A plan by Gambia to execute every prisoner on death row next month has been condemned by the African Union and civil rights groups.

According to the Civil Society Associations Gambia, there are currently 47 people awaiting death sentences in the West African nation, including 11 political prisoners and eight suspected of having severe mental health problems. One has been on death row for more than 25 years.

“CSAG is strongly convinced that most of those who were convicted to death for treason went through unfair trials and considers their convictions politically related,” the group said in a statement.

“Given that the Gambia Government uses the death penalty and other harsh sentences as a tool to silence political dissent and opposition, CSAG believes that any execution is a further indicator of the brutality with which President [Yahya] Jammeh’s regime is bent on crushing political dissent,” it added.

Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi, chairman of the African Union, urged Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, not to go ahead with the executions, according to BBC News.

"After having learned of the imminent execution of a number of prisoners sentenced to death, President Yayi, who is very concerned, wished that President Yahya Jammeh not carry out such a decision," Beninois Foreign Minister Nassirou Bako Arifari told BBC Afrique.

Jammeh, in an address to the nation Monday, Jammeh said that the executions would be carried out within the next few weeks.

"By the middle of next month, all the death sentences would have been carried out to the letter; there is no way my government will allow 99 percent of the population to be held to ransom by criminals," he said, according to news service AFP.

President's 'repressive nature'
AFP said that eight military top brass, including the ex-deputy head of the police force, were given death sentences for treason last year. The last execution in the country happened five years ago.

CSAG said his remarks, which were made to mark the Muslim festival of Eid, a time when “Muslims the world over seek forgiveness, extend messages of peace and love, show solidarity with one another and those in distressing conditions.”

“President Jammeh chose once again to show his brutality and repressive nature by informing Muslim leaders that he would execute prisoners,” the group said in the statement.

It added that the death row inmates included 39 Gambians with three from neighboring Senegal, two from Mali, two from Nigeria and one from Guinea Bissau. There are 46 men and one woman.

CSAG called for the international community to put pressure on Jammeh to stop the executions.

Death sentences were "known to be used as a tool against the political opposition" in Gambia, international rights group Amnesty International said in a report

"Furthermore, international standards on fair trials, including presumption of innocence, access to lawyers and exclusion of any evidence obtained as a result of torture, are often not respected,” it added.

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