President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia is planning to execute all death row prisoners by the middle of September, a move that has broken the 27-year moratorium on the death penalty in the Gambia. Following Jammeh's announcement, nine prisoners were executed by firing squad at the end of August. Despite an international outcry, the president has insisted there will be no mercy for the remaining 38 prisoners.
Human rights groups say many of the prisoners are being held on politically motivated charges and weren't given fair trials. The UN, the African Union, the EU, the US and Britain have all strongly condemned Jammeh's actions.
This is a major setback for the region, which has made great strides in recent years: Ivory Coast, Senegal and Togo have all eliminated the death penalty. But it's not too late to act.
Death as a political weapon
President Jammeh seized control of the Gambia during a coup in 1994 and rules with an iron first. He allows for no criticism and many fear his increased support of the death penalty is a further move to eliminate political dissent.
Many of the death row inmates are former officials who have been detained for "treason", and were likely found plotting against President Jammeh's 18-year rule. Last year eight military leaders were sentenced to death for treason, including the former army and intelligence chiefs.
Speaking to the Observer newspaper, a relative of a current inmate described life as a nightmare since the nine were executed last month: "These prisoners were arrested with no evidence, tortured for months, convicted in sham trials and are now living in fear of their lives," he said. "Any confidence I had left that the government could not execute innocent people has now been shattered."
Gambians speak out
Any opposition within Gambia is fiercely oppressed, but Jammeh's reach ends at the border. Gambian diaspora have been vocal in their opposition to the executions, staging a "day of outrage" around the world this past week. They say the executions violate the Gambian constitution which requires a fair trial, and that this shows just how far Jammeh will go to keep his stranglehold on power.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has threatened to cut the EU's international aid package to Gambia if Jammeh goes forward with more executions. It's a step in the right direction, but Robert Rotberg, former professor of governance at Harvard, says more needs to be done. Boycotting the tourism industry, which accounts for one-third of Gambia's GDP, would be a start.
Sources: Guardian, Voice of America, News24, Amnesty International, Al Jazeera, The World