Gambia's Execution Spree: "We Don't Know Who Will Be Next!"

August 30, 2012

gambia executions protest
Protesters gather outside the Gambian embassy in Senegal on August 30, 2012 to demand President Yahya Jammeh halt the mass execution of prisoners. (Photo AFP/GettyImages)

While many nations have eliminated the threat of execution by abolishing the death penalty, the president of the Gambia is taking a very different and far more troubling approach.  President Yahya Jammeh pledged recently in a televised broadcast to empty his country’s death row by executing all its prisoners by mid-September.  This West African nation about the size of Connecticut had not executed anyone in more than a quarter of a century.  In the past week alone, authorities have executed at least nine people.

A rising number of organizations and governments around the world are calling on President Jammeh to stop the executions, including the Gambia’s neighbor, Senegal, along with the African Union, the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Amnesty International.

For a country that relies heavily upon the feel-good vibes of happy tourists to fill its revenue coffers, the publicity resulting from the government’s actions could damage more than the nation’s image.

Of course, the Gambia’s human rights record was already a source of concern.  Exercising one’s freedom of expression can be risky business.  Authorities have frequently detained government opponents, human rights defenders and journalists, torturing some, and “disappearing” others.  Journalist Ebrima Manneh has not been seen since security officials arrested him in 2006.  Former cabinet minister Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh is serving life in prison for making T-shirts with the slogan “End to Dictatorship Now.”

The Gambia is sadly out of step with current trends in Africa, where since 2000, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Togo, Burundi, Gabon and Rwanda have each abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

A number of the Gambia’s death row inmates are former officials and military officers who have been detained for treason since 1994, when Yahya Jammeh seized power in a coup.

The wife of one death row prisoner told Amnesty International:

“These past few days have been something like a nightmare. We don’t know what’s happening – who is dead and who is alive. And we don’t know who will be next.”

Help Amnesty International end the executions in the Gambia.  Call on President Jammeh to end the execution spree.