Mourning an Executed Gambian Death Row Inmate

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Marco Werman: There's been controversial justice in Gambia, in west Africa as well. The government there has executed nine prisoners by firing squad and the president, Yahya Jammeh has vowed to execute all 47 death row inmates by mid September. No one is entirely sure why the prisoners were killed. It's been 27 years since Gambia last carried out an execution. Many of those slated for execution are former members of Gambia's military and have been detained since the 1990s, charged with treason. President Jammeh took power in a coup in 1994. Alhagie Sowe is related to one of the nine prisoners that were executed last Sunday. His name was Aliu Bah. Now, Alhagie, Aliu wasn't your brother but you grew up together like brothers. How did you hear about his death?

Alhagie Sowe: Through the internet and through rumors.

Werman: Now you live currently in Vancouver, In Canda and I gather you just recently, in the last few minutes, spoke with your family back home in Gambia. What did they tell you? Any new developments?

Sowe: Well, actually, they did not even know anything about it. It was, uh, I myself who informed them about it and they were shocked and they were all crying because nobody knows exactly what's happening in that country. They had no access to him and initially it was not confirmed because it was all rumors. Until it was voiced out in the radio Gambia locally, then we all knew that he actually killed them.

Werman: And so, are new details emerging about these death row inmates in Gambia, in recent days?

Sowe: Well, it is. Now it's global; it's all over the place; it's everywhere. Everybody knows about it and the situation in the country is very scary. People are scared. It's just a very sad situation there now, but those of us who are outside, you know, we are talking and we're just doing all we can for the international community to know about it.

Werman: Well, tell me more about this Relative of yours, Aliu Bah. How long had he been in prison and what had he been charged with?

Sowe: Well, he joined the military in 1987 and right after we finished high school. You know, he was just a very brave young man who had no fear in him, you know. He meant well; he was a kind soul. There was a lot of corruption in the country and him and this Yahya, they were all friends in the military. And so they decided to remove the regime at the time in 1994, uh, with the intention to bring about freedom and democracy and, you know, eradicate all corruption in the country. That was their intent, but Yahya disappointed them and in 1995, him and some other guys wanted to remove Yahya himself because he became a tyrant and he just started killing people. Even in the military itself, he just started killing people. So they wanted to remove him and it was not successful.

Werman: And so he tried unsuccessfully to stage a coup and this time was arrested and he's been in jail ever since?

Sowe: Yes. He was captured and he was in jail ever since and they were tortured. I went back in 2006 and, uh, I was able to see him only for 10 minutes.

Werman: Yeah. You said your family had very poor access to see Aliu in prison.

Sowe: Exactly. Exactly. I for myself, last year, when I went there, I went all the way to the man, to the prison where he was, but I was not allowed to see him.

Werman: What can you tell us about President Yahya Jammeh, this man who has been in power since 1994 and that your brother tried to stage a coup against, twice?

Sowe: Like they said, power corrupts; absolute power absolutely corrupts. His behavior is just irratic. The whole country is in fear. Anybody who opens his mouth, or her mouth, and says anything against him, overnight they will come and take you or take your wife. The whole system there is just sad. I just cannot believe in this day and age, you know, anything like that is happening. People are even relating him to ???

Werman: Right. Well, I was looking around and it does seem, according to reporters without border, there's absolute intolerance to any form of criticism in Gambia.

Sowe: Yeah, you can't. Even if you have… The whole country is under hostage. Even if you pick up a phone and call your friend or family, they even scared of speaking.

Werman: What can the international community do about President Yahya Jammeh?

Sowe: That's what we're trying, because people are rallying, you know, in Seattle, Washington D.C., all the way to Europe. You know, people are voicing out now that enough is enough. So, hopefully they will deny him from travelling. Deny his ministers from travelling. Just shut them down.

Werman: Alhagie Sowe is from Gambia. He now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. One of his relatives was executed by the government of President Yahya Jammeh last Sunday in Gambia. Alhagie, thank you for speaking with us and our condolences to you.

Sowe: Thank you very much. You are very welcome.