october 22, 2012 AFP
BANJUL, Gambia — The European Union on Sunday urged Gambia to honour a freeze on the death penalty after the tiny west African nation’s supreme court upheld death sentences against seven officials for treason.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh last month announced a temporary halt to executions, bowing to international pressure after putting to death nine prisoners in August.
But on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld death sentences against the men, who were accused of having plotted a coup.
A statement published by the British High Commission representing the EU locally in Gambia said the EU “urges the Gambia to uphold its commitment to exercising its moratorium on the death penalty.”
The statement added that the High Commission was deeply concerned after EU representatives were denied access to the Supreme Court hearing Friday.
“The refusal of access is contrary to the provisions in the Gambian constitution that court proceedings should be in public,” the statement said.
Jammeh himself came to power in a coup in 1994. He has pushed aside all those who oppose him and is regularly accused of rights violations and of fostering a climate of fear.
On August 19, he said all prisoners on death row would be executed by mid-September. A week later, nine of them, including two Senegalese, were killed by firing squad, provoking an international outcry.
The EU is opposed to the death penalty in all cases.
October 10 2012 http://www.dw.de
As World Day Against The Death Penalty comes round for the tenth time, memories in Africa of the execution of nine people in The Gambia in August are still fresh. A subsequent moratorium was given a guarded welcome.
The regime of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is known to have a poor human rights record, but the execution of nine prisoners at the end of August still came as a shock to the international community. As Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus from Amnesty International explained, “People are sentenced to death for political crimes, for treason, which is a violation of international standards.” She said Amnesty has had reports of torture being used in The Gambia and freedom of expression is repressed. “There are a number of human rights concerns we have,” she added.
Until August of this year, the last time that The Gambia carried out the death penalty was in 1981.
Yahya Jammeh came to power in a coup in 1994. Since then he has sought to root out and silence all opposition. Political opponents are arrested and incarcerated in prisons such as Mile 2 Central. It is a death trap, according to Banka Manneh, chairman of the Civil Society Associations Gambia. The prison conditions are so atrocious that there is a high probability that inmates will either die in prison or shortly after their release. “Mile 2 prison has a system where the food is so bad it gives you what they call beriberi, your whole body starts to swell, you die a very, very horrible death,” Manneh said.
Clinging on to power at all costs
Among the nine who were executed in August were two Senegalese citizens. Dozens of people in Senegal protested against the death of their compatriots. Manneh said the purpose of the executions was to intimidate the population. “For one reason or another, Gambians have become somewhat more courageous of late,” he said. “They have watched regime change taking place in Senegal and they have also been monitoring the Arab Spring. These events have put Gambians in a thoughtful mood.”
The European Union and the United Nations have threatened Gambia with sanctions and called on President Jammeh to abide by international standards. Human rights organisations also strongly condemned the executions.
Such protests appear to have had an impact. A further 28 executions, which were scheduled for the middle of September, have not been carried out. President Jammeh has announced a moratorium and the death sentences have been temporarily suspended. Manneh welcomes the news but remains sceptical. “Knowing Yahya Jammeh, and what he has done in the past, this is a man who doesn’t value human life. He could wake up one morning and decide ‘you know what – let’s execute someone!'”
It is unclear whether the EU will impose sanctions on The Gambia now that the moratorium has been announced. On the annual “World Day Against The Death Penalty” on October 10, the EU’s Africa experts met to draw up policy proposals for their respective European ministers. An EU spokeswoman said it could be some time before a decision was reached.
This year the “World Day Against The Death Penalty,” which was launched by the “World Coalition Against the Death Penalty” in 2002, is marked for the tenth time. Even though more and more countries are abolishing capital punishment, 57 countries still adhere to the practice. Amnesty International says 20,000 people worldwide are currently on death row.
September 18, 2012 http://www.mmegi.bw
BANJUL: Gambia’s president insisted on Sunday that he would not bow to pressure over his country’s use of capital punishment as the opposition urged him to commute death sentences.
President, Yahya Jammeh announced on Friday that he was imposing a moratorium on executions, after coming under intense criticism for the firing squad killing of nine convicts last month.
On Sunday, main opposition leader, Ousainou Darboe called on Jammeh to go further and commute death sentences to life in prison. Darboe told AFP that the decision to halt executions came “as a result of serious international pressure and it was right that the government has responded in a mature way to the outcry.”
But “I think he should go further than this and commute the sentences of all those on death row to life imprisonment,” said Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party that was defeated by Jammeh in last year’s election.
The president, however, insisted he would not be told what to do. “Do I look like somebody who will bow down to human pressure? No way,” Jammeh told thousands of Gambian youths gathered in his home village of Kanilai to show support for executions. In his first public reaction to the furor over the executions, broadcast on state television, Jammeh referenced BBC coverage of the issue, saying he would “never bow down to outside pressure or pressure from any group,” citing the European Union as an example.
According to Jammeh’s office, international pressure had played a part in the decision to suspend executions, including from Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal. The execution of nine convicts by firing squad on August 29 followed an announcement 10 days earlier by Jammeh that the country planned to execute all death row prisoners by mid-September.
Two Senegalese were among the nine executed last month. Rights groups estimate another 38 convicts face firing squad deaths in the small west African country where Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, rules with an iron fist and tolerates no criticism. The president, who claims he can cure AIDS and other illnesses, is often accused of rights abuses and muzzling journalists.
Amnesty International has condemned Gambia’s increasing use of the death penalty over the past few years, claiming that some people have been sentenced for crimes of a political nature and suffered torture and harsh treatment to extract “confessions”.
All those sentenced to death for treason should be pardoned Darboe urged, saying “the convictions of some of these people were politically motivated.” Among the political prisoners are a former army chief, an ex-intelligence chief, a former deputy police chief, as well as businessmen and soldiers. (SAPA-AFP)