Calls for halt to Gambia executions

2012-09-17 22:32
Yahya Jammeh. (AFP)

Yahya Jammeh. (AFP)

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Dakar - Rights group Amnesty International Monday called on Gambia to order a permanent halt to all executions and conduct a "transparent" review of the cases of some 38 prisoners currently on death row.

On Friday Gambian President Yahya Jammeh announced a temporary moratorium on executions as the deadline he set for carrying out all death sentences neared, bowing to international pressure after putting to death nine prisoners last month.

"The president's announcement of a conditional moratorium is simply not good enough," said Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, Amnesty's Gambia researcher.

"Making the moratorium permanent, with a view to abolishing the death penalty in law, is necessary to ease some of the anxiety of the death row inmates and their families," she said.

Amnesty also urged Gambia to have "a transparent review of all death penalty cases" and for the legislature to take up the issue.

At least two of the nine prisoners executed by firing squad on 29 August were killed without legal appeals, even though the Gambian constitution mandates that all death row inmates must have their appeal heard all the way to the Supreme Court, according to Amnesty.

The London-based rights group added that it is concerned that Gambia's judiciary is not independent from political pressures and that the use of "confessions" obtained under duress are prevalent.

According to Jammeh's office, international pressure had played a part in the decision to suspend executions, including from Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal. Jammeh however has said he would "never bow down to outside pressure or pressure from any group."

Last month's executions followed an announcement 10 days earlier by Jammeh that the country planned to execute all death row prisoners by mid-September.

Rights groups estimate another 38 convicts face firing squad deaths in the small west African country almost completely surrounded by Senegal. Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, rules with an iron fist and tolerates no criticism.

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