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Gambia Sentences 8 People to Death


In Gambia, eight people have been sentenced to death after being accused of plotting a coup to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh in 2009. The defendants' lawyer said all eigtht had pleaded not guilty and they are appealing the conviction.

Convicted of treason, the eight defendants were also found guilty of procuring arms from Guinea and on two other counts of conspiracy with the aim of overthrowing President Yahya Jammeh's administration.

Amnesty International West Africa Researcher Ettelle Higonnet has been following the case. She says the convicted men were not given a fair trial.

"We believed at the time that it was an unfair trial for several reasons. The first is that the people who had been arrested had been held far beyond the legal limits, which is unlawful arrest," she said.

Higonnet also said the Gambian courts are politicized and do not act independently from President Jammeh and that the men did not have adequate access to their lawyers.

"Our take at Amnesty is that President Yahya Jammeh's government has cracked down on political freedom across the board," said Higonnet.

She cited arbitrary arrests as well as the persecution of journalists and human rights defenders as some of the government's crackdowns on freedom.

International human right groups have often questioned what they described as the government's heavy-handedness in repressing any dissenting views - a charge the government denies.

Among the men sentenced on Thursday are the former head of the country's military.

President Jammeh has been in power since staging a bloodless military coup in 1994.

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