“This is going to be your last breath,” they told Imam Baba Leigh as they threw earth over his bound body. Then they stopped and laughed. It was a mock execution, one of many tortures the Muslim cleric told Amnesty International he endured during his months in captivity.
His crime? Criticizing the president.
Welcome to the Gambia, home to one of the most vicious and bizarre dictatorships in the world. Since taking power in a 1994 coup, President Yahya Jammeh has ruled Africa’s smallest mainland country through fear, force and what we can best describe as creepiness. He prefers that subjects address him by his full name — His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh — and says he can cure AIDS. The 49-year-old also imprisons people for alleged witchcraft and has threatened to decapitate all homosexuals, because they are “anti-God and anti-human.” Oh, and there’s his penchant for firing live rounds into crowds of peaceful demonstrators. Anyone who speaks up against his cruel, outlandish ways risks kidnapping, torture or murder, like Imam Leigh.
In all this, Jammeh has made his country the neighborhood freak. The rest of West Africa has taken big strides toward democracy over the past decade, what with the election of the first female African president in Liberia and Ghana’s status as rule-of-law beacon. Yet the Gambia, 50 years independent, is where human rights go to die. In 2013, it up and left the Commonwealth, a 54-nation grouping of former British colonies, suggesting to diplomats that Jammeh refused to tolerate any international criticism (he’d gotten a spate of it the previous year for resurrecting the firing squad).
Read more: OZY.com