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Rev. Jesse Jackson secures release of Americans in Gambia

Rev. Jesse Jacksspeaks teachers rally UniPark Chicago Ill. Saturday September 15 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks at a teachers rally at Union Park in Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, September 15, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 19, 2012 6:14AM

Chicago’s the Rev. Jesse Jackson added another notch Monday to his successes in international diplomacy — obtaining the release of two Americans who were expected to be imprisoned in Gambia for at least 20 years.

“This is a great day,” Edward Alford, U.S. ambassador to The Gambia for only two months, said by phone, minutes after an agreement was reached.

“Rev. Jackson has come here as a concerned American citizen, a humanitarian, and has talked to his excellency, President [Yahya] Jammeh, and President Jammeh has agreed to release the two prisoners. This was a marvelous performance.”

The two Gambian-born Americans — Tamsir Jasseh, a one-time U.S. soldier, and Amadou Scattred Janneh, a longtime professor at the University of Tennessee — were both accused and convicted of treason by the government of Jammeh, who recently carried out execution of nine prisoners.

Jammeh sparked international denouncement when he executed the prisoners in August, and vowed to clear his death row of the remaining 38 by mid-September.

But as the international crescendo rose, last weekend, the president of the tiny, West African nation widely accused of human rights violations relented on continuing the first executions in 27 years. He issued a moratorium.

The Americans were believed political prisoners, as are many on his death row.

Jasseh, accused of participating in a foiled coup attempt against the dictator who seized power in 1994, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2007.

In January, Janneh was sentenced to life imprisonment — allegedly for helping distribute t-shirts for an NGO that had the slogan “End to Dictatorship Now.”

Both will be released Tuesday, and allowed to return with Jackson to the U.S.

“Rev. Jackson and his excellency share a friendly relationship,” The Gambian minister for presidential affairs, Njogou Bah, said during a phone interview.

“They visited and discussed many issues, including the death penalty and recent executions, and Rev. Jackson pleaded for release of the Americans,” Bah said. “They were involved in subversive activities, were caught, found guilty, sentenced accordingly. The only reason his excellency released them was in consideration of his special relationship with Rev. Jackson and his plea.”

The Rainbow PUSH founder and longtime civil rights leader flew to The Gambia Sunday with a delegation. Jackson’s past similar successes include the release in 1984 of captured Navy Lieutenant Robert Goodman from Syria and 48 Cuban and Cuban-American prisoners in Cuba; 1999’s release of U.S. soldiers held hostage in Kosovo; and in 2000, the release of four British journalists from Liberia.

“After the human rights cry around the world, I knew I had to come. I’ve known President Jammeh for some time, and I asked if he would received me,” Jackson said Monday. “I came with no guarantees. I am gratified the lives of these two men have been spared, and they will be back with their families on Wednesday.”

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