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Dakar/Banjul - Nine people have been executed in Gambia, days after President Yahya Jammeh pledged to purge death row of its inmates by the end of September, the rights group Amnesty International said Friday.
The group said that credible reports suggested that the nine prisoners -including one woman and several Senegalese nationals - were taken from their cells and executed late Thursday. Some of those killed had been convicted of treason by the authoritarian state.
“The decision of the Gambian president ... to execute nine prisoners after more than a quarter of a century without execution would be a giant leap backwards,” said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty's deputy director for Africa.
“If confirmed, the reported executions would bring the Gambia back into the minority of countries which are still executing,” Rigaud said.
Gambian civil society groups and the African Union have called for eccentric leader Jammeh to take back remarks he made during a speech to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al Fitr last week. He called for all 47 inmates on death row to be executed within weeks.
“Mr Jammeh's remarks, though not new, are shocking, troubling, distressing and to do not augur well for the already deteriorating human rights standards of the Gambia,” said Banka Manneh, chairman of the Civil Society Associations of Gambia (CSAG).
Manneh said many of those on death row were political prisoners who had unfair trials. As of Thursday, the condemned block included an elderly 84-year-old, eight prisoners with mental health issues and eight foreign nationals.
“Given that the Gambia government uses the death penalty and other harsh sentences as a tool to silence political dissent and opposition, CSAG believes that any execution is a further indicator of the brutality with which President Jammeh's regime is bent on crushing political dissent,” Manneh said.
The leader has also come under fire in recent months for his controversial herbal HIV “cure,” for which patients must stop antiretroviral treatment.
Although the death penalty is legal in the tiny West African country that is popular with British and German tourists, no inmate had been put to death since 1985 before Thursday's reported executions. - Sapa-dpa