Dozens of Death Row Prisoners in Gambia Risk Imminent Execution
(Washington, D.C.) — Amnesty International has confirmed that at least 38 people still on death row in Gambia are at imminent risk of execution following official affirmation that nine other death row inmates were put to death last week. The human rights organization calls for a moratorium on the killings and denounces the government's pledge that executions will continue.
“One can only imagine the terror the death row inmates and their families face knowing that at any moment they could be pulled from their cells and put in front of a firing squad,” said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.
“Amnesty International remains concerned that many inmates have been convicted after unfair trials where they have not had access to lawyers or an appeals process. Some were sentenced after being tried on politically-motivated charges and have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to force confessions,” Rigaud said.
Conditions on death row are appalling and reports indicate that they have been made even worse by increased security since last week, with all prisoners reported to be on virtual lockdown.
“The President must not only retract his threat to execute all death row prisoners; he must confirm that Gambia will place a moratorium on executions, effective immediately,” said Rigaud.
Gambia had not carried out executions since 1985 and was previously considered abolitionist in practice.
The recent executions followed statements made by President Jammeh on August 19 and 20 indicating that Gambia would execute everyone on death row by mid-September.
Amnesty International believes that neither the prisoners who were executed nor their families were told of the executions in advance. Secret executions, where prisoners, families and lawyers are not informed beforehand, violate international law concerning the use of the death penalty.
Family members of those who remain on death row have been unable to access the prison or communicate with the inmates.
The wife of one death row prisoner in Gambia 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. Many of the people are still on appeal and we are scared because we do not know what will happen to them.”
On the evening of August 23 eight men and one woman were taken from their cells in Mile 2 prison near the capital city, Banjul, and executed by firing squad.
Amnesty International believes the executions were carried out between Thursday night and Friday morning, though the government claimed in a statement released on Monday, August 27 that they were carried out on Sunday, August 26.
The statement from the Ministry of Interior reiterated the government’s intention that “all sentences prescribed by the law would be carried out to the letter, including the death penalty,” suggesting that Gambia will go ahead with further executions despite the international outcry.
Amnesty International has noted that in the past two years, the number of death sentences handed down has increased, yet the criminal justice system remains flawed.
Amnesty International calls for a review of all death penalty cases. The international community should provide assistance to ensure fair trials for all death row inmates.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The organization campaigns for the total abolition of this cruel and inhuman punishment.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.