DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia's leader on Wednesday marked the 21st anniversary of the military takeover that catapulted him into power by pardoning all prisoners convicted for treasonable offenses. The declaration, however, comes amid a rising climate of fear, Amnesty International said.
Yahya Jammeh's rule since 1994 has been marred by accusations of rights violations.
"The climate of fear which has blighted the lives of Gambians for more than two decades worsened over the last 12 months with journalists, people perceived to be gay or lesbian, and those considered to be opponents of the regime and their families increasingly targeted," said Amnesty's West Africa researcher Sabrina Mahtani.
Amnesty noted a spike in arrests, detentions and enforced disappearances since a failed coup attempt in December. "Those detained include women, elderly people, and a child, and many are believed to be unwell," it said.
Journalists and human rights defenders have also been targeted.
Gambian authorities re-abducted radio journalist Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay on July 17, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. Ceesay was released last week, after two weeks in custody without explanation, and was then seen being forced into a car on Friday. He wasn't heard from until Tuesday, the group said.
Jammeh last week had indicated that executions will be resumed, announcing plans to broaden the scope of the death penalty.
However, on Wednesday he said: "All those convicted of treason from 1994 to 2013, and are in death row or serving life sentences are hereby pardoned."
Former minister Sidi Sanneh said the prisoner pardons were welcomed, but "we will never be appeased by what amounts to a calculated move to deflect an opposition force."
Amnesty said the international community and West African bloc "have a duty to address Gambia's declining human rights record."
Associated Press writer Abdoulie John contributed to this report