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Published On: Thu, Jan 18th, 2024

Former Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko Admits to Writing Notes On Orders to Shoot Protesters

By Mustapha K Darboe with New Narratives

Former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko, currently facing charges of crimes against humanity in Bellinzona, Switzerland, admitted to writing a note in which he claimed to have received orders from ex-president Yahya Jammeh to shoot and kill protesters in April 2016.

Sonko served as police chief under Jammeh from 2005 to 2006. In the latter part of 2006, he was appointed interior minister, a position he held from November 2006 to February 2012 and from May 2012 to September 2016. The reason for his fallout with Jammeh has never been made public.

The Swiss Attorney General’s office, along with 10 plaintiffs from Gambia, is accusing him of torture, murder, false imprisonment, rape, and deprivation of liberty, allegedly perpetrated against Gambians during Jammeh’s 22-year rule.

When Swiss prosecutors raided Sonko’s apartment in Switzerland after his arrest in 2017, they found a handwritten note in a suitcase. He had previously denied the existence of the note, but during yesterday’s hearing, his position changed, when he confirmed the note found at his apartment was written by him for his Swiss asylum procedure.

In the note, Sonko claimed to have received an instruction from Jammeh to “shoot and kill the April 14 to 16 demonstrators,” an order he said he declined to carry out, though he continued to serve as interior minister until September that year.

“I prepared [the note] after I was removed from office, and it was to be used for my asylum,” he said. Sonko contested the accuracy of some details in the note.

The note also contained a directive to harass the opposition and deny them protest permits. The note calls into question Sonko’s operational role; throughout the trial, he has maintained that he was not involved in operational matters, like issuing protest permits, which allegedly falls under the function of the police chief.

He also claimed in the note to have received instructions from Jammeh to hand over the arrested protesters to National Intelligence Agency officials but denied this part was carried out.

Torture

At least two alleged torture victims–Fatoumatta Jawara and Fatou Camara–appeared before the Swiss court on Wednesday. Both were involved in a protest in April 2016 led by Sandeng.

Both testified to being tortured at the state central prison, Mile 2, and the National Intelligence Agency complex, and broke down during their testimonies.

Unlike Modou Ngum, Jawara and Camara did not testify to seeing Sonko at the paramilitary or NIA headquarters, where they were allegedly tortured. Sonko denies involvement in the arrest, detention, or torture of people at the NIA.

“We were taken to be beaten mercilessly for hours… We were blindfolded, taken by another man who masked his face to the panel. We were asked questions that I could not answer because I was barely conscious. They brought me back to be tortured. They said I was refusing to answer. All my clothes were torn. I was urinating blood for months,” said Jawara. All the victims said they were not permitted medical attention for several days.

The Swiss prosecutors are trying to prove Sonko’s responsibility for torture through his participation in various investigation panels as inspector general or for ordering or abetting abuse as interior minister.

The hearing continues on January 18 with a cross-examination of Sonko’s testimony.

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

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