Authorities in Switzerland have taken into custody Ousman Sonko, former Gambian interior minister and a righthand man of erstwhile President Yahya Jammeh.
A criminal complaint has been filed with Bernese prosecutors on Wednesday, which demanded the opening of investigation on torture against Mr. Sonko.
Sonko, Jammeh’s longest serving interior minister fell apart with the brutal dictator in September and fled to Senegal. He then flew to Sweden and Spain where his asylum applications were rejected before entering Swiss in November and is believed to have a lot of intelligence about the operation of Jammeh’s regime, including his illicit businesses.
Sonko until his arrest has been living in an asylum center in Canton Bern. Prosecutors say his arrest in compliance with the Convention against Torture and the Swiss Criminal Law.
Sonko headed coordinated the work of a special elite paramilitary squad only answerable to Jammeh. He and members of the squad are accused of torture, killings, arbitrary detentions and crimes against the state.
Former security officers implicated the former police chief and presidential guard commander in the killing of journalist Deyda Hydara, killing of at least 40 Ghanaian migrants 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.
“As the head of detention centers, Mr. Sonko could not have ignored the large-scale torture that political opponents, journalists, and human rights defenders suffered there,” said Benedict de Moerloose, head of the Inquiries and Criminal Law Division at TRIAL International.
Two United Nations special rapporteurs conducted missions to Gambia in November 2014 to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, in addition to extrajudicial and unlawful killings. Both rapporteurs issued highly critical reports stating that Gambia is characterized by widespread disregard for the rule of law, infringements of civil liberties, and the existence of a repressive state apparatus.
They said they encountered an atmosphere of fear and were denied access to detention centers, including the security wing of Mile 2 Prison in Banjul, where torture and killings are existent and prevalent.
Sonko, who calls himself a ‘diciple’ of former dictator Jammeh oversaw the brutal crackdown by security forces on opposition protesters last Spring that led to the deaths of two activists, including Ebrima Solo Sandeng, who was tortured to death. The former minister threatened to deal ‘seriously’ with anyone ‘who is funded by the West to destabilize the Gambia.’
Jammeh, who lost elections last month ceded power after a regional military force was poised to forcefully flush him. He has fled the country to Equatorial Guinea and looted the state coffers of nearly US$12 million.