Gambia: Soldiers sentenced to death in secret trial must not be executed

Death sentences imposed on soldiers accused of participating in December’s attempted coup d’état in Gambia are a cruel violation of the right to life and the right to a fair trial, Amnesty International said today.

A military court handed down death sentences to three soldiers and sentences of life imprisonment to three others following a trial on Monday 30 March 2015. The trial was held in secret; media and independent observers were barred from observing the proceedings.

Gambia’s justice system is deeply flawed and we have concerns about the fairness of the trial, given that it was held in secret

Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Many countries in West Africa are moving away from the use of death penalty and it is disappointing that the Gambia has not followed this trend.”

Reports from the country indicate that the soldiers may have been convicted of treason, conspiracy, mutiny and assisting the enemy. The last executions in Gambia were carried out in 2012, when nine prisoners (eight men and one woman) were executed by firing squad.

In September 2012 President Jammeh announced a “conditional” moratorium on executions, which would be “automatically lifted” if crime rates increased. In March 2015, during a review by a United Nations (UN) human rights body, Gambia rejected recommendations by other states to maintain the moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty.

The death sentences imposed on Monday are the latest in a series of regressive actions by the Gambian authorities in relation to human rights. In January, at least 30 family members of people alleged to have taken part in the coup attempt were detained without charge or access to their lawyers or families. Some have since been released but many remain in incommunicado detention three months on. In November 2014 United Nations officials investigating reports of torture were prevented from visiting the country’s main prison.

Amnesty International is calling for the death sentences to be commuted to terms of imprisonment, pending a re-trial which meets internationally accepted fair trial standards and does not include the possibility of a death sentence.