On the seventh day of the ongoing crime against humanity trial in Switzerland of former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko, an alleged torture victim Modou Ngum, broke down as he told the court about the horrendous treatment meted out to him at the notorious NIA premises where he was taken by the Gambia police who arrested him and other protesters demanding electoral reforms on 14 April 2016.

The protest was led by a member of the opposition UDP—Ebrima Solo Sandeng—who was beaten to death in state custody. Further protest about Sandeng’s killing set off a series of protests that led to the arrest of over 30 party members of the UDP including its leader Ousainu Darboe.

On the first day of protests, Sandeng was arrested with at least 13 people—including Ngum, and taken to NIA, where they were brutally tortured, leading to Sandeng’s death. At least five other people involved in the protests have died since 2017. Their relatives attributed their deaths to the torture they endured at the NIA.

In his testimony yesterday Ngum took the Swiss court into the NIA complex, describing the abhorrent conditions, and emotional and physical torture meted against him and others.

“They stripped me naked and took me to a room at the NIA,” Ngum, who was 29 at the time, said. He told the court that one Tamba Masireh, an NIA official found responsible by the High Court in Banjul for the torture of detainees told him they were going to kill him.

“The Junglers came and beat me until I could not hear myself crying before throwing me on the grass in an open courtyard. That was where I regained consciousness,” Ngum said. Ngum said he was electrocuted on his genitals adding that he and his fellow protesters were later sentenced to a 3-year jail term, but he and several others missed the start of the trial and for two weeks due to injuries caused by the torture.

“They did not want the court to see me in that condition and so I was allowed to see a doctor and warned us not to wear the clothes in which we were tortured. They made sure they bought us new clothes for the court hearing,” Ngum told the Swiss court.

As Ngum was testifying, Madi Ceesay, the National Assembly Member for Serekunda West whose son Ebrima, was tortured and died shortly after, and Fatoumata Sandeng, the daughter of Solo Sandeng, who died in state custody, sat in tears in the courtroom while nominated member Fatoumatta Jawara and Fatoumatta Camara, two torture victims expected to testify before the court, buried their heads in their hands and wiped their tears.

Sonko’s alleged responsibility

Ousman Sonko served as police chief under ex-President Jammeh from 2005 to 2006. In the later part of 2006, he was appointed Minister for Interior, a position he held from November 2006 to February 2012 and from May 2012 to September 2016.

Arrested in January 2017, the Swiss Attorney General’s office, along with 10 plaintiffs from Gambia, is accusing Sonko of torture, murder, false imprisonment, rape, and deprivation of liberty, allegedly perpetrated against Gambians during Jammeh’s rule.

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.

Ngum said Sonko was in the panel that oversaw his torture at the NIA and at the paramilitary barracks, where they were processed before being taken to the NIA.

“The police were under the command of Ousman Sonko, and he was present in the panel and I remember Sonko was there when I was asking for water to drink which was refused,” said Ngum. He also accused Sonko and the jailed former head of the NIA, Yankuba Badgie, of ordering his transfer from police custody to the NIA, where he and others were tortured. Sonko denies all wrongdoing.

Badgie and four former members of the NIA implicated in the torture of the protesters and the killing of Sandeng were sentenced to death by a High Court in Banjul in July 2022.)

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

Source: The Standard

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