Gambian police have arrested Yankuba Badjie, the former director of National Intelligence Agency, an institution accused of enforced disappearances and killings under former President Yahya Jammeh.
“We have arrested Yankuba Barjie former director of NIA and Sheikh Omar Jagne director of operations. Investigations are ongoing,” Foday Conta, spokesperson of Gambia police said.
Conta said investigations are ongoing and that the duo are yet to be charged though the arrests were made on Monday evening.
Jammeh who ruled Gambia with an iron fist has lost elections to a former property developer Adama Barrow in country’s December 1 presidential elections.
This is Barrow government’s first high-profile arrest of former members of the previous regime since their shocking election triumph.
Two weeks ago, Gambia police chief Yankuba Sonko has told Turkey News Agency that the small nation’s interior minister Mai Fatty has issued a directive for their institution to probe the cases of missing people in the country.
Since Jammeh’s downfall, the new government has asked people to report cases of their missing people to a department of Gambia police call the Major Crime Unit.
A Gambian human rights defender Madi Jobarteh calls his arrest a “great news” to victims of Jammeh.
It will be the first for senior operatives of the NIA to be arrested for human rights abuses and crimes against the state.
Despite widespread allegations of serious abuses committed by the agency over the last two decades of Jammeh’s rule, none of its officers were held accountable for the tortures, rapes, killings and arbitrary detentions.
Opposition activists Solo Sandeng was tortured death last year under Yankuba Badjie’s watch and broadcast journalist Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay was also tortured most recently.
Ceesay was “beaten until he fell unconscious and was forced to drink cooking oil like water on several occasions,” a person who saw him after his release from the NIA told Human Rights Watch. “We saw him, his face full of bruises and his back covered in marks and wounds. He could not walk properly because of the beatings.”
Alieu Sarr, who fled the Gambia in 2015 after being accused of acts of homosexuality said he was repeatedly tortured while in NIA detention.
“I was beaten with a club and fists,” he said. “They threatened me with death if I didn’t provide names of other homosexuals in Gambia.”
In the weeks before Jammeh’s departure from power, the NIA closed at least four radio stations, arrested supporters of the opposition and pro-democracy grassroots campaigners who were tortured until their release just this week.
Forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and other human rights violations were trademarks of the government of Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a military coup in 1994.
Swiss authorities arrested Jammeh’s former homeland security minister, Ousman Sonko, who worked in the same capacity as Director Badjie under the UN Torture Convention and Swiss Criminal Law.
The NIA routinely target voices of dissent, including journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents, and critics, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Two UN special rapporteurs, who in 2014 gained access to the country for the first time, concluded that “torture is a consistent practice” by authorities and “avoiding arrest is a necessary preoccupation” for ordinary Gambians.