By Andrew Novak, 3 August 2013
Late in the night on August 23, 2012, Gambian President Yayeh Jammeh had nine death row inmates at the notorious Mile 2 Central Prison in The Gambia executed to broad international condemnation.
Of the nine, three were convicted of treason, a notoriously politicized charge in a country under Jammeh's authoritarian hybrid civilian-military rule.
Prior to this, The Gambia had only carried out a single execution since its independence from Great Britain in 1965. Specifically, Mustapha Danso was executed for the murder of an army commander during a failed coup attempt in 1981.
At the time of the August 23 executions, there were 47 inmates on death row. Two of those executed were Senegalese nationals and at least one was placed on death row prior to the enactment of The Gambia's current constitution in 1997. The Gambia's democratic government had abolished the death penalty in 1993, but President Jammeh reinstated it in 1995 after he took power in a coup the prior year.
The executions came as a shock to the international community, with sharp condemnation from the European Union, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which The Gambia is a member. The Gambia is a small nation of 1.3 million and explicitly restricts the usage of the death penalty to homicide in its constitution:
As from the coming into force of this Constitution, no court in The Gambia shall be competent to impose a sen- tence of death for any offence unless the sentence is pre- scribed by law and the offence involves violence, or the administration of any toxic substance, resulting in the death of another person.
In January 2012, the High Court in Banjul, a trial court, sentenced Amadou Scattred Janneh, a former Minister of Information and Communication, to life imprisonment after finding that the death penalty for treason was unconstitutional. In a separate appeal, how- ever, the Gambian Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for treason in October 2012 in a challenge by convicted coup plotter Lt. Gen. Lang Tombong Tamba and his accomplices.
The Gambian penal code still punishes treason as a capital crime and, as in other former British colonies in West Africa, the death penalty is mandatory upon conviction for homicide.