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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Jammeh’s Executor’s Lawyer Maintains Swiss Prosecutors Did Not Connect Sonko to Alleged Crimes

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Philippe Currat, a Swiss lawyer defending former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko in his trial for crimes against humanity, told the court on Wednesday that prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

Currat said that after 13 days of hearings, including testimony from 11 witnesses, prosecutors had not provided enough evidence linking Sonko to the violations he is accused of.

Sonko was arrested in January 2017 on charges brought by the Swiss Attorney General’s Office, along with 10 Gambian plaintiffs, accusing Sonko of torture, murder, false imprisonment, rape and deprivation of liberty, allegedly perpetrated against Gambians during the 22nd. years of government of former president Yahya Jammeh.

In 2006, following a failed coup d’état, dozens of civilians and military personnel were arrested and detained, during which they were allegedly tortured. Several plaintiffs testified to such facts, but Sonko maintained that he was not a member of the panel that would have supervised their alleged torture.

“He was there the first day… This was before they tortured people. Once again, these people were tortured and were in the custody of the NIA and the Junglers,” and not M. Sonko, Currat argued.

Currat argued that the prosecution failed to establish Sonko’s role in the alleged torture of the plaintiffs. “What is missing is the link between torture in the NIA [National Intelligence Agency] and Ousman Sonko,” Currat argued.

The witness hearings ended on Wednesday with the testimony of Madi Ceesay, former CEO of The Independent, arrested in March 2006 along with the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Musa Saidykhan. The two were allegedly tortured and detained for 22 days at the National Intelligence Agency premises for publishing false information about former NIA deputy director Samba Bah’s alleged involvement in a foiled coup that year.

The biweekly newspaper was “forcibly closed” by members of the police intervention unit, according to local and international press freedom organizations. But Sonko claimed officials obtained a court order to close the newspaper. However, according to the Gambia Press Union, the 15 incidents of media closures in Banjul during Jammeh’s government were arbitrary.

Sonko denied any knowledge of or involvement in the alleged torture of Musa and Madi. At least two civilians (one of whom was allegedly raped) and a soldier also testified that they were tortured in 2006. They blamed Mr. Sonko for participating in the investigative panel that ordered or supported his ill-treatment.

Sonko is the second person to face trial in Switzerland under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which holds that crimes against humanity are committed against all human beings regardless of where they were committed.

The first person tried in Switzerland under universal jurisdiction, Alieu Kosiah of Liberia, was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2022.

Swiss prosecutors have sought to prove Sonko’s liability for torture through his alleged participation in various investigative panels as inspector general or for ordering or inciting abuses as interior minister.

During his testimony, Sonko, who denied any involvement or knowledge in the arrest and torture of protesters at the NIA in 2016, said he found out “much later” what had happened and said the police acted “in accordance with the Gambian law. with “proportionate use of force” when arresting them.

Sonko served under Jammeh as police chief for one year and as interior minister for 10 years. He was in charge of Gambia’s prisons and internal security matters during half of Jammeh’s presidency. The Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission concluded that Jammeh had used the police and prisons as tools to oppress and neutralize his political opponents.

During Gambia Truth Commission hearings, several witnesses testified that the security wing of the country’s Mile 2 central prison, the area of ​​the prison where high-profile prisoners are held, was used as a torture and detention camp. arbitrary for members of Jammeh’s death squad. , the junglers. Sonko maintained that the Security Wing had been under the control of the State Guard, elite forces guarding the presidency.

In the second week of the trial, two prison officers, Lamin Sanneh and Abdou Jammeh, testified about torture and poor food and hygiene conditions at the Mile 2 prison.

“Prisons in The Gambia are notoriously poor, but this is not a result of Gambian state policy, but rather a historical legacy that we have to accept,” Sonko said, adding that he tripled the food budget for prisoners. during his time as Minister of the Interior.

However, according to the human rights committee of the Gambian parliament, the food ration for a prisoner in The Gambia is currently five danes per person, which is equivalent to half a loaf of bread in the country.

Sonko is also accused of participating in the torture and death in state custody of Ebrima Solo Sandeng, a protest leader in April 2016. Since then, at least five alleged torture victims who participated in the protests have died, including one , Nogoi Njie. —was expected to testify against Mr. Sonko in Switzerland.

Three alleged torture victims (Fatoumatta Jawara, Fatou Camara and Modou Ngum) testified against Sonko. Unlike Ngum, Jawara and Camara did not testify to having seen Sonko at the paramilitary or NIA headquarters, where they were allegedly tortured.

The country’s former police chief, Yankuba Sonko, a direct subordinate to Sonko, told Swiss investigators that he had reservations about how the April 14 and 16 protests were handled, but was not explicit about whether he communicated this to Ousman.

Sonko faces a rape allegation by Binta Jamba, the widow of Almamo Manneh, a former state guard soldier who served under Sonko in 2000. Jamba said she was abused over a five-year period, from 2000 to 2005.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Sonko also participated in at least one investigative panel that oversaw the torture and rape of a political detainee in 2006. They argued that the rape was used as an instrument of torture by the Jammeh regime.

Currat told reporters that he did not question Jamba because his “contradictory statements” had already discredited his testimony. Several witnesses, including Demba Dem, alleged that Sonko is a “ladies’ man” who does not respect women.

An ex-wife of Sonko, with whom he had a son, came to testify to his character. Although Njemeh Bah did not take the stand, he submitted a one-page statement which was admitted by the court. “I have not witnessed or heard anything of any of the acts of which he is accused,” he said in his statement. “I stand here as a living testimony that during the time I knew him, he was a harmless, caring, thoughtful figure who would do anything to make someone safe and happy.”

The Swiss court must now decide whether Mr Sonko’s alleged crimes were part of a broader context of state-sponsored terrorism that affected Gambians during Jammeh’s 22-year rule.

Hearings are closed until March 4, when the court will hear statements from lawyers. A verdict is expected later this year. Sonko faces 20 years in prison if he is convicted, including the six years he has already served. He would be deported at the end of his sentence.

This was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West African Justice Reporting Project.

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