Gambian president urged to commute death sentences
9/17/2012 1:50:01 AM -
DAKAR (AFP) - Gambia's president insisted Sunday he would not bow to pressure over his country's use of capital punishment as the opposition urged him to commute death sentences.
President Yahya Jammeh announced Friday he was imposing a moratorium on executions, after coming under intense criticism for the firing squad killing of nine convicts last month.
On Sunday, main opposition leader Ousainou Darboe called on Jammeh to go further and commute death sentences to life in prison.
Darboe told AFP that the decision to halt executions came "as a result of serious international pressure and it was right that the government has responded in a mature way to the outcry."
But "I think he should go further than this and commute the sentences of all those on death row to life imprisonment," said Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party that was defeated by Jammeh in last year's election.
The president, however, insisted he would not be told what to do.
"Do I look like somebody who will bow down to human pressure? No way," Jammeh told thousands of Gambian youths gathered in his home village of Kanilai to show support for executions.
In his first public reaction to the furor over the executions, broadcast on state television, Jammeh referenced BBC coverage of the issue, saying he would "never bow down to outside pressure or pressure from any group," citing the European Union as an example.
According to Jammeh's office, international pressure had played a part in the decision to suspend executions, including from Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal.
The execution of nine convicts by firing squad on August 29 followed an announcement 10 days earlier by Jammeh that the country planned to execute all death row prisoners by mid-September.
Two Senegalese were among the nine executed last month.
Rights groups estimate another 38 convicts face firing squad deaths in the small west African country where Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, rules with an iron fist and tolerates no criticism.
The president, who claims he can cure AIDS and other illnesses, is often accused of rights abuses and muzzling journalists.
Amnesty International has condemned Gambia's increasing use of the death penalty over the past few years, claiming that some people have been sentenced for crimes of a political nature and suffered torture and harsh treatment to extract "confessions".
All those sentenced to death for treason should be pardoned Darboe urged, saying "the convictions of some of these people were politically motivated."
Among the political prisoners are a former army chief, an ex-intelligence chief, a former deputy police chief, as well as businessmen and soldiers.