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Witness says Gambia’s ex-interior minister oversaw interrogation and torture

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Ousman Sonko, Former Minister of Interior

By Mustapha K Darboe with New Narratives– Bellinzona, Switzerland

Demba Dem, the fourth plaintiff in the crimes against humanity trial of Gambia’s former interior minister, Ousman Sonko, testified on Friday and told the court that Sonko allegedly sat on an investigative panel that oversaw his interrogation and torture. The trial against Sonko began this week in the Swiss city of Bellinzona. 

Dem was a Gambian lawmaker for ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party in 2006 when he was arrested by security officials over his alleged involvement in a foiled plot to overthrow Jammeh. (Dem has always maintained his innocence and denied being involved in the attempted coup.)

In the aftermath of the attempted coup, close to 70 Gambians—military officers and civilians, including Dem—were arrested and subjected to horrific torture at the complex of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), on the outskirts of Banjul. 

“The suspects were all tortured at the NIA. Evidence was fabricated and used against them to convict them of treason,” Gambia’s Truth Commission found. Those tortured also included journalists Madi Ceesay and Musa Saidykhan, both of whom are expected to testify against Sonko in the coming days. 

Dem is the third plaintiff before the Swiss court to testify on events related to the 2006 attempted coup. Sonko faces allegations that he participated in the panel that oversaw the interrogations and torture of detainees, charges he denied. If found guilty, Sonko could face up to 20 years in prison. 

The court resumes hearings on Monday.

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

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