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Gambia: Dramatic Increase in Executions

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of executions recently in Gambia, with nine prisoners put to death on a single day, August 23, 2012. Forty seven people have been condemned to death since July 2010. The sudden increase in capital punishment over the last few months coupled with confusing declarations from President Jammeh have worried citizens of Gambia as well as those in neighbouring countries. The death penalty was abolished in Gambia in 1993. However, Yaya Jammeh re-established it by decree in August 1995, after coming to power in the coup of July 22, 1994.

On blog Assirou.net [fr] a post entitled Yahya Jammeh’s Macabre Clean-up [fr] explained how the world heard about the latest executions in Gambia:

Le 20 août, dans une adresse à la Nation diffusée en boucle, le croque-mort gambien déclarait vouloir rayer de la liste des vivants, d’ici le milieu du mois de septembre, tous les condamnés à la peine capitale [D’après un décompte de l’AFP, depuis juillet 2010, 47 personnes au total ont été condamnées à mort dans le pays.]. Argument de cette subite poussée de fièvre présidentielle: il n’est pas question que le gouvernement «permette que 99% de la population soit prise en otage par des criminels».

On August 20, in an extensively broadcast address to the Nation, the “Gambian undertaker” said he wanted to cross off all those sentenced to the death penalty from the ‘list of the living’ by mid-September [according to the AFP a total of 47 people have been sentenced to death in the country since July 2010]. The justification for this sudden thrust of presidential excitement: there is no question that the government would “permit 99% of the population to be taken hostage by criminals”.

Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia by John Armagh on wikipedia – used under GNU licence

Faced with the international outcry that this declaration has created, it seemed for a while that the Gambian dictator would back down as we can read on diasponews.com in a post entitled ‘Gambia: Banjul talks about “slips of the tongue” and “misinterpretation”’ [fr]:

L’ambassadeur de Gambie au Sénégal … aurait fait état d’une «mauvaise interprétation de (ses) propos» par les opposants et par la presse. Et dans «le pire des cas», aurait-il ajouté, il s’agirait d’un «dérapage verbal» qui ne portera à aucune conséquence.

The Ambassador of Gambia in Senegal… claimed a “misinterpretation of (his) remarks” by opponents and the press. And in “the worst case”, he reportedly added, it would have been an inconsequential “slip of the tongue”.

Yet two days later, on August 23, although there had been no executions in the country for a quarter of a century, the executions of nine [fr] who had been sentenced to death including a man and a woman [fr] from Senegal [fr] were announced to a shocked populace.

Video of Jammeh explaining the carrying out of executions by YouTube User 112233444821

Finally, on September 21, Jammeh broke his silence regarding the recent executions [fr]:

Semblant dans une bulle, Yaya Jammeh n’avait pas juge nécessaire de répondre a toutes les attaques dirigées contre son pays et ses pratiques.

Seemingly in a bubble, Yaya Jammeh did not judge it necessary to answer all the attacks against his country and its practices.

Serekunda Market by Ikiwaner on Wikipedia under Creative Commons licence

Senego.com continued [fr]:

Yahya Jammeh a profité de l’audience qu’il a accordée à ses compatriotes venus labourer ses champs à Kanilaï, pour leur expliquer les raisons pour lesquelles il a fait exécuter les neuf prisonniers condamnés à mort avant de leur demander leur position par rapport au débat soulevé.

« Je travaille pour vous et même si je dois mourir pour vous, je le ferai. Je ne vais jamais succomber à la pression humaine, mais si vous le peuple gambien me suppliez d’arrêter les exécutions, je vais les suspendre parce que tout ce que je fais je le fais pour votre intérêt.

Si je dois signer dix mille condamnations à mort pour sauver 1,6 million de Gambiens, je le ferais. Si un pays a un citoyen en Gambie et ne veut pas qu’il soit exécuté, qu’il ne laisse pas tuer quelqu’un en territoire gambien. Je vais mourir pour l’Afrique », a martelé le dirigeant gambien »

Yahya Jammeh used the audience he gave his countrymen who came to work in the fields of Kanilai to explain to them why he executed the nine prisoners who had been sentenced to death. He then asked their position in relation to the debate raised.

“I work for you and even if I must die for you, I will. I will never give in to pressure from people, but if you, the Gambian people, implore me to stop the executions, I will suspend them because all that I do, I do for your benefit.

If I have to sign ten thousand death sentences to save 1.6 million Gambians, I will. If a country has one of its citizens in Gambia, and doesn’t want them to be executed, then they shouldn’t let them kill anyone on Gambian territory. I would die for Africa”, thundered the Gambian leader.

One month later, on October 20, Senego.com [fr] informed us that four detainees had died [from what appears to be poisoning] [fr] [and that this must have been] the new way of executing those condemned to death.

The same weekend we learned that the death penalty was pronounced for seven detainees [fr], including former soldiers.

Here is a video showing one of the executed prisoners, Tabara Samb, from YouTube User tfm:

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