Gambian President Yahya Jammeh announced Saturday he was suspending executions for prisoners on death row, after coming under intense criticism for resuming capital punishment.
“The general public at home and abroad is hereby informed that President Yahya Jammeh has decided to put a moratorium on executions as a result of numerous appeals to that effect from the council of elders, women groups as well as youth groups across the country,” his office said in a statement.
“It is hereby made clear that it is only a moratorium on executions and what happens next will be dictated by either a declining violent crime rate in which case the moratorium will be indefinite or an increase in the violent crime rate in which case the moratorium will be lifted automatically.”
The move came after the first batch of nine convicts were executed by firing squad following Jammeh’s August 19 announcement that the country planned to execute all death-row prisoners by mid-September.
Jammeh’s office said pressure from Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal — which surrounds Gambia, except for a strip of coastline, and had two of its citizens among the nine executed prisoners — had played a part in the decision to suspend executions.
But the presidency insisted that “no amount of bad mouthing or pressure can make the president shy away from upholding the oaths that he has sworn as president.”
Rights groups estimate another 38 convicts face the firing squad in Gambia, where Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, rules the country with an iron fist and brooks no criticism.
Jammeh, who claims he can cure AIDS and other illnesses, is often pilloried for rights abuses and muzzling journalists.