Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) – Gambian President Yahya Jammeh pardoned several death-row inmates on Wednesday, the 21st anniversary of his arrival to power, yet notably excluded those accused of launching a failed coup in December.
Days after warning that prisoners on death row should expect to have their sentences implemented, Jammeh announced that "all those convicted of treason from 2013 to 1994 & (who) are in death row or are serving life imprisonment are hereby pardoned."
Among those benefitting from the amnesty are a former army chief of staff convicted of treason in 2010 & four army captains convicted of trying to overthrow the autocratic president in 2006.
p>Gammeh made no mention, however, of those convicted over December's foiled attack on the presidential palace, while he was on a trip to Dubai.
In March, three soldiers were sentenced to death & three others given life sentences by a military tribunal over the abortive coup, according to military sources & the rights group Amnesty International.
The six were overlooked by the president in his speech, with the 50-year-old leader instead announcing pardons for convicted murderers who had spent at least ten years behind bars, with the exception of those jailed for particularly gruesome murders or serious attacks on children.
Jammeh has ruled the thin sliver of a country that straddles the River Gambia in west Africa with an iron fist since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1994.
He is regularly accused of serious rights abuses. Last week, he gave notice of an impending end to the country's three-year unofficial moratorium on executions, in a move he presented as a response to a rising murder rate.
Last month, the government announced it would hold a referendum on expanding the list of offences punishable by death to any crime deemed sufficiently serious by parliament.
A date for the referendum has yet to be set.
In a statement Wednesday Amnesty International said the human rights situation in the nation of 1.7 million people had "deteriorated sharply" over the past year.
"A severe backlash following December's failed coup attempt has seen a spike in the numbers of arbitrary arrests & enforced disappearances," Sabrina Mahtani, the organization's west Africa researcher, said.
Amnesty linked the situation to the "steep rise" in illegal migrants from Gambia trying to reach Europe & called on the international community & regional ECOWAS bloc to "address Gambia's declining human rights record".
Utility IndustryYahya JammehAmnesty International