Gambian president Yahya Jammeh shocked world amnesty leaders when he announced that all inmates sentenced to death should be executed in the next month. He made the announcement during a televised meeting with Muslim leaders during a celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Fitr, the BBC notes. President Jammeh made a bold statement saying, “By the middle of next month, all the death sentences would have been carried out to the letter; there is no way my government will allow 99% of the population to be held to ransom by criminals.”
The west African country has had no executions there for the past 27 years, according to Amnesty International. The statement was met with resistance from the African Union. The president of Benin, Thomas Boni Yayi condemned the statement, and called for the plan to cease immediately.
President Jammeh stood behind his statement saying that the death penalty must be carried out in order to curb the tide of crimes in Gambia. The Star notes that the death penalty was introduced as a punishment for those caught carrying 250 grams of cocaine or heroin back in 2010.
Amnesty International condemned President Jammeh’s comments this week. Audrey Gaughran of the organization’s Africa chapter voiced strong disapproval of the new measure:
President Jammeh’s comments are deeply troubling and will undoubtedly cause severe anguish to those on death row and their families… Any attempt to carry out this threat would be both deeply shocking and a major set-back for human rights in Gambia.
The President’s statement is in stark contrast to the trend, both in West Africa and globally, towards ending the use of the death penalty.
The death penalty was only recently reinstated in Gambia back in 1995 after Yahya Jammeh took control of the central government in 1994. It remains unclear how many people are affected by this statement, but the BBC reports that 47 death row inmates were housed in Gambia at the time of Jammeh’s statement. Reports surfaced this week that nine prisoners, including one female, were taken from their cells on Thursday night and executed, leading many amnesty leaders to call for the plans to come to a halt. One security source told AFP that the Gambian president is determined to execute them all and that the remaining prisoners are all stationed in one place now.
Jammeh has said he would rule Gambia for as long as Allah wills it. Amnesty’s Audrey Gaughran also expressed concern that many of the trials that landed people in prison to begin with might have been rigged, stating, “Unfair trials are commonplace in the country, where death sentences are known to be used as a tool against the political opposition and international standards on fair trials are not respected.”
Yahya Jammeh has made headlines before for his outspoken stance on human and LGBT rights. In April, he made a speech in which he said he would refuse foreign aid if it meant that LGBT rights had to be considered, calling the gay community “ungodly” in a speech. At least 15 people have been arrested in Gambia this year on charges of homosexuality. President Jammeh has continued his controversial stance into the summer months, making other African leaders concerned about his human rights record.
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