Gambian president in fresh round of pardons

AFP , Friday 31 Jul 2015

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has announced the release of nine high-profile prisoners including military top brass and a Nigerian national axed as the country's most senior judge over corruption.

The pardons are the latest in an unexplained period of clemency since the military strongman celebrated 21 years in power earlier this month that has seen more than 200 inmates released.

The government, in a statement released late Thursday, named the judge, three military officers, three high-ranking drug enforcement agents and two others among those who had been released.

Former chief justice Joseph Wowo was jailed for two years in 2014 on a string of offences ranging from fraud and abuse of office to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and interfering with witnesses.

The other pardoned prisoners include former naval commander Mamut Sarr, whom civil rights activists say was kept in Banjul's notorious Mile Two prison for six years without trial.

High ranking army officers Mam Matarr Secka and Kuluteh Manneh, convicted of various drugs offences, weren't due for release until 2023.

A relative confirmed late Thursday that Secka had been freed and reunited with his family.

The latest pardons came after Jammeh granted an amnesty on his 21st anniversary in power on Wednesday last week to several former officials who had been convicted of treason.

At the weekend he freed 12 relatives of the plotters of a failed December coup who had been in jail without charge for up to seven months.

More than 230 prisoners have been released since the amnesty was announced, according to a tally by AFP relying on government figures and information from various rights groups.

A sliver of land nestled within Senegal, the Gambia has over the years seen the arrest and jailing of numerous senior military and police officers for treason, drug trafficking and corruption.

No recent chief justice has lasted long in office under Jammeh, a notoriously fickle leader who regularly reshuffles his government and judiciary.

In what many observers say is a sign of insecurity, the president runs several key ministries himself, including defence and religious affairs.

Jammeh has ruled mainland Africa's smallest country with an aura of mysticism and an iron fist since seizing power, and vowed ahead of his swearing-in for a fourth term in 2012 to eradicate corruption.

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