Eight former army and police officials and business leaders have been sentenced to death by a Gambian court for plotting a coup to overthrow the government of Yahya Jammeh in 2009.
AFP - A Gambian court on Thursday sentenced eight top brass to death for plotting a coup in 2009, including the former army and intelligence chiefs and the ex-deputy head of the police force.
"After going through the evidence of the prosecution and the defence I find all the persons guilty and accordingly sentence them to death on all three counts," Judge Emmanuel Amabi told the High Court in Banjul.
The eight accused include former army chief Langtombong Tamba, former intelligence chief Lamin Badjie and the former deputy head of police Modou Gaye as well as two businessmen and three military officers.
They were found guilty of procuring arms from neighbouring Guinea as well as on two counts of conspiracy to commit treason for an alleged bid to overthrow the government of Yahya Jammeh, who himself seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994.
Lawyers for the accused told AFP they would appeal the decision.
This is not the first time army officers in the small west African country, nestled within Senegal, have been accused of plotting against the Jammeh administration.
Eleven people were jailed over a 2006 coup attempt in which Tamba is also accused of playing a role.
Chief state prosecutor Richard Chenge told the court in his closing argument Thursday: "Coup plots are on the increase in the Gambia. Unless we put a stop to it this country will be messed up. I urge the court to set an example by sentencing the accused to death."
President Jammeh, an outspoken military officer and former wrestler, is said to rule the country with an iron fist, repressing criticism and brushing off concerns over human rights abuses.
The allegations of repeated coup plots are seen as a sign of insecurity by the president, who regularly reshuffles his governments.
The small nation which straddles a long river is popular among European tourists attracted to its beaches and reputation as the "smiling coast".
However it is regularly criticised by groups such as Amnesty International for illegal arrests and detentions and repression of journalists, many of whom have fled the country as their colleagues disappear or die mysteriously.
Ibrahima Fillah, youth leader for the opposition United Democratic Party told AFP the decision "did not come as a surprise."
"The Gambia has, since the coming into power of the Jammeh regime, seen a lot of harassment, intimidation, disappearance of people and unnecessary arrests.
"So these really are all indications of how this country is being run, not through the constitution but through the dictate from a few individuals."
The accused were arrested between November 2009 and January 2010 after being implicated by former army chief Tamba's nephew Ibrahima Marreh, who testified to having witnessed meetings between the alleged coup plotters.
Also among the 16 state witnesses was self-confessed drug dealer Ruijadbi Gassama from Guinea-Bissau, who said he was paid 35,000 euros (45,000 dollars) to train 300 mercenaries in Guinea-Bissau to carry out the coup.
The last time someone was executed in Gambia was in 2007.