Posts filed under 'Wrongful Executions'

2009: Ehsan Fatahian, Iranian Kurdish activist

Add comment November 11th, 2020 Headsman

Iranian Kurdish activist Ehsan Fatahian was hanged on this date in 2009 in Sanandaj, the provincial capital of Iranian Kurdistan.

He was condemned for alleged “armed struggle against the regime” as part of the proscribed Komala party. He initially received “only” a 10-year prison term, but an appeals court elevated the sentence — and that sentence was ominously rushed to completion.

Other political prisoners staged a hunger strike in protest of his hanging, and thousands of people signed online petitions circulated by human rights organizations begging Tehran to abate the sentence.

Fatahian’s moving last statement to the world, written a few days before his hanging:

Last ray of sun at sunset
is the path that I want to write on
The sound of leaves under my feet
say to me: Let yourself fall
and only then you find the path to freedom.

I have never been afraid of death, even now that I feel it closest to me. I can sense it and I’m familiar with it, for it is an old acquaintance of this land and this people. I’m not writing about death but about justifications for death, now that they have translated it to restoring justice and freedom, can one be afraid of future and destiny? “We” who have been sentenced to death by “them,” were working to find a small opening to a better world, free of injustice, are “they” also aware of what they are working towards?

I started life in city of Kermanshah, the city that my country people consider grand, the birthplace of civilization in our country. I soon noticed discrimination and oppression and I felt it in the depth of my existence, this cruelty, and the “why” of this cruelty and trying to resolve it made me come up with thousands of thoughts. But alas, they had blocked all the roads to justice and made the atmosphere so repressive that I didn’t find any way to change things inside, and I migrated to another resort: “I became a pishmarg [armed Kurdish fighter or literally “one who faces death”] of Koomaleh,” the temptation to find myself and the identity that I was deprived of made me go in that direction. Although leaving my birthplace was difficult but it never made me cut ties with my childhood hometown. Every now and then I would go back to my first home to revisit my old memories, and one of these times “they” made my visit sour, arrested and imprisoned me. From that first moment and from the hospitality (!!) of my jailers I realized that the tragic destiny of my numerous [comrades] also awaits me: torture, file building, closed and seriously influenced court, an unjust and politically charged verdict, and finally death.

Let me say it more casually: after getting arrested in town of Kamyaran on 29/4/87 [July 19, 2008] and after a few hours of being a “guest” at the information office of that town, while handcuffs and a blindfold took away my right to see and move, a person who introduced himself as a deputy of the prosecutor started asking a series of unrelated questions that were full of false accusations (I should point out that any judicial questioning outside of courtroom is prohibited in the law). This was the first of my numerous interrogation sessions. The same night I was moved to the information office of Kurdestan province in city of Sanandaj, and I experienced the real party there: a dirty cell with an unpleasant toilet with blankets that had probably not seen water in decades! From that moment my nights and days passed in the interrogation offices and lower hallway under extreme torture and beatings and this lasted three months. In these three months my interrogators, probably in pursuit of a promotion or some small raise, came up with strange and false accusations against me, which they better than anyone knew how far from reality they were. They tried very hard to prove that I was involved with an armed attempt to overthrow the regime. The only charges they could pursue was being a part of “Koomaleh” and advertising against the regime. The first “shobe” [branch] of Islamic republic court in Sanandaj found me guilty of these charges and gave me 10 years sentence in exile in Ramhormoz prison. The government’s political and bureaucratic structure always suffers from being centralized, but in this case they tried to de-centralize the judiciary and gave the powers to re-investigate (appeal?) the crimes of political prisoners, even as high as death penalties, to the appeal courts in Kurdestan province. In this case [Kamyaran’s city attorney] appealed the verdict by the first court and the Kurdestan appeals court changed my verdict from 10 years in prison to death sentence, against the Islamic republic laws. According to section 258 of “Dadrasi Keyfari” law [criminal justice law], an appeals court can increase the initial verdict only in the case that the initial verdict was less than minimum punishment for the crime. In my case, the crime was “Moharebeh” (animosity with God), which has the minimum punishment of one year sentence, and my verdict was a 10 year sentence in exile, clearly above the minimum. Compare my sentence to the minimum sentence for this crime to understand the unlawful and political nature of my death sentence. Although I also have to mention that shortly before changing the verdict they transferred me from the main prison in Sanandaj to the interrogation office of the Information Department and requested that I do a video interview confessing to crimes I have not committed, and say things that I do not believe in. In spite of a lot of pressure I did not agree to do the video confession and they told me bluntly that they will change my verdict to death sentence, which they shortly did, and demonstrated how the courts follow forces outside of judiciary department. So should they be blamed??

A judge has been sworn to stay fair in every situation, at all times and towards every person and look at the world from the legal perspective. Which judge in this doomed land can claim to has not broken this [oath]and has stayed fair and just? In my opinion the number of such judges is less than fingers on one hand. When the whole judicial system of Iran with the suggestion of an interrogator (with no knowledge of legal matters), arrests, tries, imprisons and executes people, can we really blame the few judges of a province which is always repressed and discriminated against? Yes, this house is ruined from its foundations.

This is in spite of the fact that in my last visit with my prosecutor he admitted that the death sentence is unlawful, but for the second time they gave me the notice for carrying out the execution. Needless to say that this insistence on carrying a death sentence under any circumstance is the result of pressure from security and political forces from outside of the judiciary department. [The people who belong to these circles] look at life and death of political prisoners only from the point of view of their paychecks and political needs, nothing else matters to them other than their own goals, even if it is about the most fundamental right of other human beings, their right to live. Forget international laws, they completely disregard even their own laws and procedures.

But my last words: If in the minds of these rulers and oppressors my death will get rid of the “problem” called Kurdestan [the province], I should say, what an illusion. Neither my death nor the death of thousands like me will be remedy to this incurable pain and perhaps would even fuel this fire. Without a doubt, every death points to a new life.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Kurdistan,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1817: Manuel Piar, Bolivarian general

Add comment October 16th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1817, the Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar stained his hands with the execution of one of his great generals.

Bust of Piar in Maturin, Venezuela. (cc) image from Cesar Perez.

A mestizo of mixed Spanish-Dutch-African, Manuel Piar (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was a self-taught and self-made man and a true revolutionary spirit. By the time he joined Bolivar’s rising against Spanish rule in Venezuela, he had already fought in similar campaigns in Haiti (against France) and his native Curacao (against the British).

His prowess in arms saw him rise all the way to General-in-Chief for Bolivar, but it could not bridge the gap in background and outlook between them. Bolivar was of European aristocratic stock, and he did not share Piar’s expectation that their revolution would also entail overturning the racial caste system.

In 1817, conflict between them came rapidly to a head: Bolivar stripped Piar of his command — and then perceiving Piar to be conspiring with other of Bolivar’s rivals, had him arrested and tried by court-martial. It’s a blot on Bolivar’s reputation given his wrong-side-of-history position in their conflict, and also given that when confronted with multiple subalterns maneuvering politically against him, he chose to go easy on all the criollos involved but make an example of the one Black guy.

That example consisted of having Piar shot against the wall of the cathedral of Angostura, the Venezuelan city now known as Ciudad Bolivar.

Bolivar didn’t personally attend this execution — another demerit — but legend holds that upon hearing the volley of the firing squad he wailed, “I have shed my own blood!”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Venezuela,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1614: Magdalena Weixler, “my innocence will come to light”

Add comment October 10th, 2020 Headsman

From Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts:

Another surviving letter from a condemned witch to her husband comes from Ellwangen in 1614. Magdalena Weixler wife of the chapter scribe Georg, wrote shortly before her execution: “I know that my innocence will come to light, even if I do not live to see it. I would not be concerned that I must die, if it were not for my poor children; but if it must be so, may God give me the grace that I may endure it with patience.”

Weixler’s case was especially horrible because her jailer had tricked her into turning over her jewelry and granting him sexual favors in return for a false promise to spare her from torture. Soon afterward, the jailer was caught and tried for bribery and breaking the secrecy of court proceedings. His trial revealed widespread rape of imprisoned women and the existence of an extortion racket whereby guards sold names to torture victims who desperately needed people to accuse of complicity in witchcraft. Such corruption among jailers must have been common when prisons themselves were a kind of torture [“when” -ed.], especially for those too poor to buy food and warm clothing from the turnkey.

The October 10 execution date comes from this pdf roster of German witchcraft executions.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1980: Necdet Adalı and Mustafa Pehlivanoğlu, September 12 coup sacrifices

Add comment October 8th, 2020 Headsman

Turkey’s “September 12” military junta — which had taken power in a coup on that day — hanged Necdet Adalı on this date in 1980, followed a few hours later by Mustafa Pehlivanoğlu.

Respectively a left-wing alleged terrorist and a right-wing* alleged one, they were offered up together with intentional ideological balance in the military’s bid to quash the years-long warfare between factions that marred the 1970s.

Both were condemned for a few of the 5,000-plus political murders that took place during those years, and both doubtfully; Adalı famously declined to participate in an escape attempt for fear it would mar his claim of innocence, and Pehlivanoğlu renounced his confession to a series of coffee shop attacks as torture-adduced.


“Safak Türküsü” (“Dawn Folk Song”), a verse tribute to Adalı by Nevzat Çelik.

They were Turkey’s first executions since 1972, and not by far the last ones that the military government imposed. These young men and the others that followed them are still esteemed martyrs so much so that when the present-day president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, passed constitutional updates by referendum in 2010 that (among other things) curtailed military immunity from prosecution, he invoked both the left-wing and right-wing victims by way of justification.

* Pehlivanoğlu was ülkücü, literally translated as “idealistic”. In context this term denotes right-wing nationalism; the Gray Wolves fascist militant organization, for instance, is officially the “Idealist Clubs Educational and Cultural Foundation”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Terrorists,Torture,Turkey,Wrongful Executions

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1938: Adam “Eddie” Richetti, Pretty Boy Floyd sidekick

Add comment October 7th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Adam “Eddie” Richetti was gassed for a notorious gangland bloodbath, the Kansas City Massacre. Whether he was actually involved in said massacre is a different question.

Richetti was a sidekick of the much better-known outlaw Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, a guy who earned his cred in social banditry by taking time during his many Depression-era bank robberies to set fire to the mortgage liens.*

J. Edgar Hoover promoted this looker to Public Enemy Number One after the slot was vacated by the late John Dillinger — and that spotlight was much due to a railroad station shootout in 1933 known as the Kansas City Massacre. There, three gangsters led by Vernon Miller ambushed lawmen escorting Miller’s arrested associate Frank “Jelly” Nash. It was an attempt to free the latter, but he was shot dead in the fusillade — along with FBI agent Raymond Caffrey, two Kansas City detectives, and the McAlester, Oklahoma police chief who had helped arrest Nash only the night before. Several other John Law types were injured in the shootout.

While Miller’s role is known, the identities of his two confederates have never been established to the satisfaction of a historical consensus. The FBI tabbed Floyd and Richetti as the other gunmen involved, and the bureau’s page on the event still asserts this positively. Floyd and Richetti always denied it — while still a fugitive, Floyd even sent Kansas City police a postcard disavowing the attack — and there has long been a suspicion that the FBI’s conclusion was born of expediency instead of investigative rigor. Robert Unger’s 1997 book on the case is subtitled “The Original Sin of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

It would do for both Floyd and Richetti, however.

In 1934, the two had a one-car accident while driving in the fog. A suspicious passing motorist alerted police and in no time Floyd had been gunned down in an Ohio cornfield; his subsequent funeral in Oklahoma would draw a crowd tens of thousands strong.

Less mourned, Eddie Richetti was taken into custody and executed in the judicial way for the Kansas City Massacre, his trial a parade of eyewitnesses of questionable veracity. He was just the fifth person executed in Missouri’s brand-new gas chamber, which had just come online that same blessed year: any less time on the run, and he would have been bound for the hangman instead.

Eddie Richetti lives on in the culture as a supporting role in any film about Pretty Boy Floyd.

* Possibly an urban legend, but Floyd’s public popularity was real.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Missouri,Murder,Outlaws,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1845: Abner Baker, feudmaker

Add comment October 3rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1845 — sneering at the noose with the words “Behold the necklace of a whore!” — Abner Baker was publicly hanged in Manchester, Kentucky.

He was the second casualty — the first was the man whom he murdered — in the Baker-Howard feud, or the Clay County War, a bloody interfamily conflict that would blight the Kentucky mountains into the next century.

Its headwaters were a man out of his head: just how much so would be the controversy of his case, and a foundational grievance of the feud.

Said head perched itself on the shoulders of our man Abner Baker, who — prior to his unfortunate turn towards derangement — was a respectable frontier striver, with an unsuccessful stint in commerce redeemed by a medical practice. He had also to his name a wife born Susan White, a woman — or rather a 14-year-old girl — from a wealthy family who was respectable in the eyes of all save he.

As Baker slid into lunacy, he leveled at his spouse the most lurid charges of concupiscence, of having committed gleeful incest, of having orgies with slaves, and of cheating on him with another wealthy man, Daniel Bates. Bates was married to Baker’s sister.

Testimony printed in an 1845 volume to capitalize on interest in the case, Life and trial of Dr. Abner Baker, Jr: (a monomaniac) features many acquaintances establishing a delusional paranoia about his wife’s intercourse with Daniel Bates — with Baker brandishing a Bowie knife around her to the extent that their mutuals feared for her life; ranting about his wife cuckolding him in his very bed while he slept beside her; fixing on his certainty that Bates designed to murder him. They also report acquaintances, and Baker’s own father, increasingly convinced that the man had gone mad.

On September 13, 1844, Baker presented himself at Bates’s salt works and shot Bates in the back. Bates lingered on for several hours, doing much to stoke the succeeding generations of clan vigilantes by bequeathing $10,000 to seek his murderer’s life and making his son promise to take revenge.

The subsequent legal drama pitted that quest for revenge against Baker sympathizers’ conviction that the man was too starkers to swing. The first magistrates to review the matter days after Bates’s murder took the latter view and released him, allowing Baker to decamp to Cuba to recuperate.

The Bateses were not to be balked this easily, however, and prevailed on Commonwealth attorneys to indict Baker for murder. At the urging of his father, the good doctor voluntarily returned to defend himself when he learned of this. The text of the trial comprises witnesses clashing over whether the killer suffered from “monomania”, but the subtext was the flexing muscle of the White family — that of Abner Baker’s poor traduced wife.

The Whites were Clay County royalty on the strength of their salt mining wealth, and allied to the Bates family. Their peers and rivals, the Garrards, were locked in tense economic competition and even came within a whisker of murdering Daniel Bates himself in a different standoff in 1840. They took a more sympathetic view of Abner Baker’s obviously unbalanced mental state and tried to shield him from his persecutors; the Garrard patriarch was one of the magistrates who had initially ruled Baker too crazy to prosecute.* It was the Whites who, in effect, outmuscled the Garrards by forcing Baker’s prosecution and execution.

“The BAKERS wept with rage for the WHITES helping the BATES to bring Abner Baker to trial when they knew he was insane,” this history of Clay County feuding observes. “The lines had been drawn and competition for salt hardened into hostility.”

Enjoy a podcast situating this affair in the regional economy and the resulting political rivalries, from American History Tellers here, as well as a successor episode on the resulting feud, here

* Baker thanked the Garrards in his last address from the gallows (“the Garrard family, on whom I had no claims, came up like noble-souled men, and asked the county to give me justice”).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Sex,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1953: Erna Dorn, June 17 rising patsy

Add comment October 1st, 2020 Headsman

Erna Dorn was executed in secret in Dresden, East Germany on this date in 1953.

Dorn (English Wikipedia entry | German) had been a typist in Gestapo headquarters — real banality of evil stuff — before going to work at Ravensbruck, which was a bit less banal. This is the setup to a fair few executions of Nazi personnel but Frau Dorn got there by a very unusual path.

After the war she was able to pass for several years as a concentration camp survivor rather than a camp staffer, but her cover persona fell apart by the end of the 1940s resulting in her divorce, her expulsion from the Communist party, and her prosecution — first for theft and eventually for the Nazi stuff. However, her sentence was a term of years, not death.

Virtually everything known about her comes from her interrogations over this period and Erna Dorn was your basic unreliable narrator. You’ve got her opportunistically evolving cover stories, and then her swinging into possibly exaggerated claims of responsibility for great abuses, all intermediated by the Stasi with its own interests. “It turns out that everything from Dorn is a fabrication, with zero correlation to truth,” a frustrated interrogator noted after following her tales down one too many blind alleys.

Dorn might have served out her 15 years and been released to take her shifting secrets to an obscure grave. But the June 17, 1953 protests against the East German government threw open the doors of the Halle detention center where she was held, allowing some 250 prisoners a very brief escape (in Dorn’s case, she was out for a single day) before Soviet intervention crushed the rebellion.

As goes the June 17 uprising Dorn was merely a bystander swept into events: it might as well have been the weather that popped open her cell door, and what would anyone do but walk right out?

Save that in the crackdown that followed there was a keen interest in painting the whole embarrassing affair in the scarlet colors of Hitlerism. The camp guard liberated by anti-government protesters made a perfect foil and the unbalanced Dorn was entirely willing to play along at her subsequent snap show trial by doubtfully claiming to have addressed the Halle protesters with an anti-German Democratic Republic harangue.

Dorn was condemned to death as a fascist ringleader by June 22, just five days after her unexpected furlough. The sentence was overturned in the 1990s by the post-GDR, reunified Germany.

* She had to carefully duck a summons to testify at trials of Ravensbruck guards, lest her true role at the camp be dramatically unveiled.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Treason,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1630: Yuan Chonghuan

Add comment September 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1630,* the Ming statesman Yuan Chonghuan was executed by lingchi

Yuan Chonghuan’s tomb in Beijing. (cc) image by Walter Grassroot.

Yuan (English Wikipedia entry | Chinese was a commander during the 1620s wars against invaders from Manchuria — wars that in due course would bring about the end of the Ming dynasty and the transition to the Manchu-founded Qing. For that very reason, Yuan cuts a sort of Stilicho figure, whose historical shadow is that of a capable commander undone due to petty infighting by a state too far gone to rot to recognize that it needed his talents.**

Yuan scored some notable battlefield wins against the Manchu (Jurchen) invaders in his time. Political intrigue saw him pushed out of power for a spell, ere a new emperor took the throne and called him out of retirement, investing him with enough authority to execute a rival general on his own say-so.

Despite successfully defending Beijing itself from a Jurchen attack, Yuan came under suspicion for the escape in that battle of the enemy ruler — Hong Taiji, the man who would become the founder of the Qing dynasty. Had he passed on an opportunity to follow up his victory because he had a treasonable understanding with the guy who stood a fair chance at conquering China in the foreseeable future? The charge formed the basis of his destruction. At least Yuan could be philosophical about it: “A life’s work always end in vain; half of my career seems to be in dreams. After death my loyal spirit will continue to guard Liaodong.”

Later rulers — the Manchu/Qing rulers — officially rehabilitated the man and his countrymen down to the present day pay him tribute at various public memorials to his honor, like Yuan Chonghuan Memorial Park in his native Dongguan.


A 1956 serialized novel treating the end of Yuan and the revenge sought by his (entirely fictional) son Yuan Chengzhi, Sword Stained with Royal Blood, has been re-adapted into numerous martial arts jams for film and television.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Gruesome Methods,History,Lingchi,Myths,Notably Survived By,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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2020: Navid Afkari

Add comment September 12th, 2020 Headsman

Iran today hanged wrestling champion Navid Afkari.

Afkari was among thousands of Iranians to join 2018 nationwide protests against the government. These protests lasted most of the year, and spread through most of Iran’s major cities, and eventually drew a draconian response.

Clashes in Shiraz resulted in the killing of a water and sewage department security guard named Hasan Torkman, and it was this that was laid at Navid Afkari’s feet as homicide.

Afkari’s case drew international condemnation, especially from world athletes who agreed with his claims that he was targeted for his grappling fame in order to send a message, and that his confession to the murder was tortured out of him. As a further twist of the knife, Afkari’s brothers Vahid and Habib were also convicted in the same affair and received lengthy prison terms. Video that campaigners circulated of Navid’s mother is positively devastating … as is the heartbreaking audio of Navid’s last message shortly before his execution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Murder,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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2012: Nine in Gambia

Add comment August 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2012, the small west African country of Gambia suddenly shot nine.

Effectively abolitionist, Gambia had not exercised capital punishment since 1981, when an attempted coup led to one (1) execution.

But it did have a (seemingly) latent death row of close to 50 souls* and in August 2012 autocratic president Yahya Jammeh used that stockpile to suddenly break the death penalty moratorium with a shock mass execution.

Those executed included one woman, at least two Senegalese nationals, and several soldiers involved in anti-Jammeh mutinies. The nine were identified as

  • Dawda Bojang
  • Malang Sonko
  • Lamin Jarjou
  • Alieu Bah
  • Lamin F. Jammeh
  • Buba YarboeLamin B.S Darboe
  • Gebe Bah (Senegalese)
  • Tabara Samba (Senegalese, female)

As might be expected for such an impetuous deed, several of these individuals so suddenly killed were not even at the end of their legal journeys through the state’s regular channels. Buba Yarboe’s family had been fighting for recognition of his mental illness as a mitigating condition; Yarboe and Malang Sonko both had judicial appeals remaining that had not yet been heard; Lamin Darboe’s sentence had been irregularly vacated and then reinstated. No matter.

Jammeh backed off his threats of follow-up executions to purge the entirety of its death row, and Gambia has conducted no further executions since that one dark day. His successor Adama Barrow officially re-imposed a moratorium and in 2019 commuted all remaining death sentences with an avowed intention to abolish capital punishment altogether.

* Reports on the size of Gambia’s death row at this time varied. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions named 39 still-living condemned individuals in a letter to President Jammeh days after the nine were killed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gambia,Mass Executions,Milestones,Murder,Mutiny,Shot,Soldiers,Women,Wrongful Executions

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