JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The West African nation of Gambia has executed nine convicted criminals and dozens more on death-row are under imminent threat, Amnesty International said Saturday quoting credible reports.
Gambia's President Yaya Jammeh vowed earlier this month to execute all the country's inmates who had been sentenced to death as part of efforts to dissuade people from committing "heinous crimes" and to curb a rising crime rate.
Eight men and one woman were removed from their prison cells Friday night and executed, according to the London-based human rights organization. Two of those executed are believed to be foreigners from Senegal.
"More persons are under threat of imminent executions today and in the coming days," Amnesty said.
Gambia's information minister could not be reached immediately to confirm the report. There was no answer from his mobile telephone.
Amnesty said the executions are the first in Gambia since 1987. Gambia reinstated the death penalty in 1995 but had not executed anyone, former minister Omar Jallow has told The Associated Press.
Amnesty said there were 47 inmates on death row before Friday's executions: government figures put the number at 42 men and two women and another three men reportedly also received the death sentence this year.
Capital punishment can be imposed in Gambia for murder and treason. Three of those reportedly executed had been sentenced for treason, Amnesty said. It's not known how many of those on death row have been sentenced for alleged coup-plotting, a treasonable offense that could indicate Jammeh is using the executions to get rid of political opponents.
Jammeh was reelected in November in elections that were "neither free nor fair," according to the U.S. State Department. Its annual human rights report criticized "the government's harassment and abuse of its critics, which resulted in a muzzled press and the death, torture, arrest and detention, and sometimes enforced disappearance of citizens."
Amnesty called the executions, if confirmed, "a hugely retrograde step" putting Gambia among a minority of African states that still impose the death penalty. Thirty-eight of the 54 members of the African Union have abolished the death penalty or, if it is still in their law books, do not perform executions, Amnesty International said.