EU demands 'immediate halt' to executions in Gambia
(BRUSSELS) - The European Union called Sunday for an "immediate halt" to executions in Gambia after reports that President Yahya Jammeh had begun carrying out a threat to clear death row by mid-September.
"I strongly condemn the executions which have reportedly taken place ... and I demand the immediate halt of executions," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International said Friday it had "received credible reports that nine persons were executed last night in Gambia and that more persons are under threat of imminent executions today and in the coming days."
Jammeh said in an address to mark this year's Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr last Sunday: "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 percent of the population to be held to ransom by criminals," he said.
According to Amnesty those executed included a woman and two Senegalese citizens.
Death sentences in impoverished Gambia, a tiny west African state wedged into Senegal, are carried out by hanging.
Jammeh, a former military officer who seized power in a 1994 coup, brooks no dissent in a country often blasted by rights bodies for abuses.
Amnesty said the last official execution took place in 1985. However AFP's correspondent in Banjul reports that executions have continued unofficially with the most recent taking place in 2007.
According to a tally by AFP, 47 people have been sentenced to death since July 2010. 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.
Many top officials have found themselves charged with treason, often related to coup plots which observers have said are a sign of paranoia by Jammeh, who won a fourth term in office in November 2011.
In her statement, Ashton said: "I recall the (Gambian government's) international commitments, as well as the commitments concerning the respect of human rights contained in the Cotonou Agreement, which governs relations between the European Union and The Gambia."
She added: "In light of these executions, the European Union will urgently consider an appropriate response."
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