Gambia's opposition leader has called for sanctions against President Yahya Jammeh if he has begun executing prisoners. Amnesty International announced nine killed so far; Jammeh has pledged to purge death row.
A day after the African Union sent a special envoy to plead for the lives of up to 47 men and women on death row, Amnesty International reported the initial round of hangings. A Gambian security source told the AFP news agency that death row prisoners were "transferred to one place" Thursday but did not confirm executions.
"It's time for the international community to take measures that will make Jammeh conform with accepted international standards," the opposition leader, United Democratic Party chief Darboe, told AFP. "I have never throughout my career as a politician asked the international community to take any hard measures against The Gambia, but I want to appeal to the international community that if Jammeh carries out the executions, it should order a travel ban for him and all his ministers," he added.
Jammeh said prisoners had exhausted appeals and added that not only would Gambis not tolerate murder, terrorism and trafficking, but also "crimes" such as drug use and homosexuality.
"All those guilty of serious crimes and (who) are condemned will face the full force of the law," Jammeh said. "All punishments prescribed by law will be maintained in the country to ensure that criminals get what they deserve."
Officials representing Britain, the former colonial power, spoke out against the reported executions.
"I am deeply concerned over reports that nine prisoners on death row in The Gambia have been executed following comments by President Jammeh that all death row prisoners would now be executed," Alistair Burt, a British deputy foreign minister, said in a statement. "I urge the Gambian authorities to halt any further executions. The UK government opposes all use of the death penalty as a matter of principle."
Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, has charged several officials with treason during his reign, including former army and intelligence chiefs and sentenced the ex-deputy head of the police force to death last year for an alleged coup plot. The president won a fourth term in 2011 with 72 percent of the vote, according to official results, with 17 percent going to Darboe and 11 percent to a third candidate. The opposition boycotted March's parliamentary elections, in which Jammeh's party won 43 of 48 seats.
mkg/pfd (Reuters, AFP)