Senegalese Protest Gambia Executions

Thursday, 30 August 2012 12:55 PM

DAKAR, Senegal — Scores of Senegalese protested outside Gambia's embassy Thursday to demand that President Yahya Jammeh halt the execution of prisoners as another 38 convicts face the firing squad in coming weeks.

Demonstrators implored the international community to intervene after nine prisoners, including two Senegalese citizens, were executed for their crimes last Sunday in the tiny country which is wedged into Senegal.

The protesters chanted "Yahya assassin! Jammeh criminal!" and "Jammeh to the ICC (International Criminal Court)" as a handful of riot police kept watch.

"We want to alert the international community to say there are 38 people on death row and if nothing is done ... these people will be executed and thrown into mass graves," said Alioune Tine of the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights. "As we speak no remains are in the hands of families."

Tine said the 47-year-old Gambian leader was a "modern day Idi Amin" referring to the former Ugandan dictator, and: "We must absolutely end the regime of this dictator."

The former soldier who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994, has vowed to carry out all death sentences by mid-September.

Sheriff Bojang, a Gambian journalist exiled in Dakar like many of his colleagues who have fled persecution, is the first cousin of one of those executed on Sunday, Lieutenant Lamin Jarjou — one of three soldiers killed.

He said his cousin was accused of involvement in a bloody counter-coup attempt in 1994, and another several years later.

"That is what they said. He was tried, obviously they were beaten, coerced into signing things. We believed there was never a fair trial," Bojang told AFP.

Like most prisoners in Gambia, Jarjou was convicted by judges known locally as "machinery judges," hired by Jammeh from Nigeria. "He has the right to fire and hire them anytime so they only do what he wants them to do."

In all the time Jarjou was in prison, the only person to see him was his brother, for 10 minutes, during a hospital stay, said Bojang.

"Everybody was shocked . . . nobody was aware of it," he said of the execution. His body has also not been returned to the family for proper Muslim burial rites.

Amnesty has said many on death row were tried on "politically motivated charges and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to force confessions."

Last year eight military top brass, including the former army and intelligence chiefs and the ex-deputy head of the police force, were sentenced to death for treason.

Jammeh, who claims he can cure AIDS, is often pilloried for rights abuses and the muzzling of journalists. He has in the past threatened to cut off the heads of homosexuals and heaps derision on any criticism from the West.

Often accused by observers of paranoia, seeing coup plots around every corner, and regularly reshuffling his government and top military officials, Jammeh rules the tiny nation with an iron fist.

"We have information that he has become completely mad; it is that in fact, there is no explanation," said Diene Ndiaye of Amnesty Senegal.

Mahawa Cham, a former Gambian lawmaker (2001-2006) and member of Jammeh's party, has no doubt that the president will continue his plans to execute the remaining prisoners.

"I believe he will continue to carry out the executions. This is a man who doesn't have sympathy for a human being. He thinks he is always right," Cham said.

Senegal has another citizen on death row awaiting execution and Jammeh's move to execute its citizens has caused a diplomatic spat between the nations.

On Wednesday Gambian Ambassador Mass Axi Gey was summoned by Senegal's Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye to inform him of "the unacceptable" nature of the executions and urge Jammeh to spare the life of the third prisoner.

In Sierra Leone, four civil society organizations said the executions were "putting The Gambia out of step with other African Union states, majority of which are abolitionist in law and practice."

AdvocAid, Amnesty International, the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law, and Prison Watch in a joint statement urged Gambia to "commute prisoners on death row to terms of imprisonment."

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Thursday, 30 August 2012 12:55 PM
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