Gambia’s former interior minister seeking protection in the Scandinavian nation of Sweden has been reportedly refused asylum and sent back to Spain, according to Gambian political activists.
Ousman Sonko, President Yahya Jammeh’s longest serving interior minister and one of his most trusted officials left Banjul in September for Sweden after being fired from his cabinet position. Sonko has been accused by rights defenders of overseeing The Gambia regime’s most repressive rights era including execution and enforced detention of political opponents, journalists and rights campaigns.
President Yahya Jammeh has vowed to prosecute any member of his cabinet that has been relieved of their duties and Sonko said he fears being prosecuted and unjustly imprisoned in the West African nation.
Former security officers implicated the former police chief and presidential guard commander in the killing of journalist Deyda Hydara and the execution of nine inmates at the state’s Mile II prison. Sonko has reportedly taken part in covert operations for the small nation, killing scores of perceived enemies of Jammeh’s regime including attempts on the lives of at least two rights lawyers and the killing of at least 14 student protesters as head of the elite presidential guard.
Analysts say Sonko is an intelligence encyclopedia of President Yahya Jammeh’s oppressive regime and rights abuses, “having coordinated and directly participated” in them and his return to Banjul will deny rights groups and the international community the much-needed information for future legal cases against Gambia’s government.
Some rights defenders say Sweden cannot ignore its international obligation to protect Sonko from unfair prosecution and having being detained in inhumane conditions in The Gambia though he has denied others the same rights while being one of Jammeh’s top henchmen.
“If the examination of your application reveals that you are a war criminal, if you have committed crimes against humanity or other serious criminal offenses, or if you are a threat to national security, you will not be granted asylum in Sweden,” Swedish officials said.
Under Swedish law, however, one can be granted a temporary residence permit if you are unable to return to your native country due to the risk of being killed or persecuted there.
This spring, Sonko threatened to harshly deal with any protest attempts ahead of the country’s presidential election only for security forces under his watch to brutally suppress a pro-opposition protest for electoral reform.
The riot police opened fire, threw teargas at and beat protesters with batons – kicking and slapping them – arresting dozens and wounding many. The UN said at least one protester, a senior opposition member has been tortured to death in custody and the women were sexually assaulted.
The opposition UDP has been urging Swedish authorities to refuse Mr. Sonko’s asylum bid in an effort for the Scandinavian nation not to send a wrong signal to the civilized world by granting asylum to a suspected human rights abuser.