08/24/2012 07:12 pm ET

Gambia President Yahya Jammeh Vows To Execute All Death Row Inmates By Mid-September

Human rights groups and foreign governments have denounced Gambian president Yahya Jammeh after he promised this week to execute every death row prisoner in Gambia by mid-September.

"All those guilty of serious crimes and are condemned will face the full force of the law," Jammeh said on Sunday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"By the middle of next month, all the death sentences would have been carried out to the letter. There is no way my government will allow 99% of the population to be held to ransom by criminals," he said.

According to reports, nine people may have already been executed.

Jammeh's announcement, made during an official speech he gave to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, came after an almost 30-year hiatus on executions in the West African nation.

Amnesty International condemned Jammeh's plan in a statement issued Tuesday, saying that the execution order "must not be acted on, and must be retracted."

"President Jammeh’s comments are deeply troubling and will undoubtedly cause severe anguish to those on death row and their families,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Africa director. “Any attempt to carry out this threat would be both deeply shocking and a major setback for human rights in Gambia."

According to the human rights group, Gambia last executed a prisoner in 1985.

The African Union has also stepped forward to urge Jammeh to not move forward with his plan.

Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi, who is the current chair of the African Union, sent his foreign minister to Gambia to persuade Jammeh to reconsider, BBC reports.

"After having learned of the imminent execution of a number of prisoners sentenced to death, President Yayi, who is very concerned, wished that President Yahya Jammeh not carry out such a decision," Beninois Foreign Minister Nassirou Bako Arifari told BBC Afrique.

The Gambian civil and human rights coalition Civil Society Associations Gambia (CSAG) has also issued statements condemning the West African leader's announcement.

“Mr. Jammeh’s remarks, though not new, are shocking, troubling, distressing and to do not augur well for the already deteriorating human rights standards of the Gambia,” said CSAG's Banka Manneh, according to the Toronto Star.

This is not the first time Gambia's president has made such threats. In September 2009, Jammeh reportedly announced that executions would resume to counter rising crime.

However, despite widespread condemnation from the international community, it seems that Jammeh may be following through with his threat this time around.

On Friday, CNN reported that nine prisoners in Gambia have been executed "overnight."

Eight men and one woman were allegedly taken from their prison cells late Thursday and killed. Three of those executed had been sentenced for treason, and two of the nine were Senegalese, Amnesty International said.

"We strongly denounce the executions of the nine and see this as a step back for the country," Amnesty spokesperson Alex Edwards told CNN. "The president should issue a moratorium and cease all executions."

CSAG's chairman said that trials are notoriously unfair in Gambia, where death sentences are often used as a tool against political opposition, the Toronto star reports.

“Given that the Gambia government uses the death penalty and other harsh sentences as a tool to silence political dissent and opposition, CSAG believes that any execution is a further indicator of the brutality with which President Jammeh’s regime is bent on crushing political dissent,” Manneh said.

Rival political parties were outlawed after Jammeh took power in a military coup in 1994, Los Angeles Times reports.

It is unclear how many people are on death row in Gambia. Agence France-Presse, which first reported Jammeh's announcement, said the number of known death row inmates is 47. However, Gambian officials say that the figure may be much higher.