Yahya Jammeh
Gambia halts executions amid international outcry

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has cancelled the executions of 38 death row prisoners following an international call to suspend the death sentence in the West African country.

Jammeh said he was responding to numerous international appeals, but that the halt would be temporary.

"What happens next will be dictated by either declining violent crime rate, in which case the moratorium will be indefinite, or an increase in violent crime rate, in which case the moratorium will be lifted automatically," said a statement from the Gambian president, reported by Reuters.

Jammeh ordered the executions of nine of the 47 death row inmates on 23 August, the first state-sponsored executions in Gambia since 1985.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and regional organisations such as the African Union have opposed the executions.  

"Unfair trials are commonplace in the country, where death sentences are known to be used as a tool against the political opposition and international standards on fair trials are not respected," said Audrey Gaughran, the Africa Director for Amnesty International, in an earlier report on the Gambia executions.

"The number of grossly unfair trials is shocking and an especially serious concern in cases where the death penalty is handed down."

An opposition group, the National Transitional Council of the Gambia, told the BBC that it would be forming a government in exile in neighbouring Senegal to oppose the dictatorship of Jammeh.

The death penalty was abolished in Gambia by former President Dawda Jawara, but was reinstated after Jammeh came to power in 1994 following a military coup.