The United Democratic Party (UDP) is following with keen interest, reports that former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko has fled the country and reportedly seeking asylum in Sweden. The Diaspora wing of the UDP is working with partners and other Gambian activist groups to authenticate the veracity of reports of Sonko seeking asylum in Sweden.
If these reports are true, then we demand Ousman Sonko be arrested and appropriate steps taken to ensure that he does not escape justice.
Ousman Sonko is a person of special interest to the UDP and many other victims of The Gambia Government. He has been implicated in various cases of state sanctioned torture, rape, kidnappings, unexplained disappearances as well as systematic killings of political opponents and perceived enemies of the government he served for more than two decades both as a senior security operative and a cabinet minister.
Sweden will send a wrong signal to the civilized world by granting asylum to a suspected human rights abuser and a serial killer whose hands are soaked in the blood of innocent people. The UDP has already filed petitions with International Criminal Court and the Regional Community Court of West Africa alleging repeated and aggravated rape, systematic torture and abuse of its supporters by The Gambian government.
We have also submitted to the European Union and other governments and international bodies, a long list of names of individuals including but not limited to cabinet ministers, senior government officials, security personnel and business people and businesses that are aiding and abetting the killing and torture of innocent Gambians as well as the plunder of the country’s resources for sanctions and travel ban. Ousman Sonko’s name is naturally on top of that list.
We urge Sweden to particularly take due diligence and liaise with the Headquarters of the European Union about UDP’s petition and the role Ousman Sonko especially played in perpetuating more than two decades of merciless tyranny in The Gambia.
Just for the records:
In January 2000, Ousman Sonko who was a Captain then in President Yahya Jammeh’s elite forces (the Presidential Guards), presided over the killing of two of his colleagues, Lt Almamo Manneh and Corporal Dumbuya on allegation that they were involved in coup plot against the government. Sonko was immediately rewarded by the President and appointed him Commander of his elite forces.
In April of that same year, soldiers under Sonko’s command took part in the massacre of student demonstrators. The students came out in the streets to demand justice for a colleague who was tortured and brutally murdered by Fire Service Officers and a young school girl who was raped by security officers at a sporting event. The peaceful student demonstration turned violent when elite forces from the President’s personal body guards arrived at the scene and started spraying live bullets on innocent students killing 14 and wounding several others in the process.
Sonko remained the head of the Presidential Guards until 2005, supervising political repression perpetrated by forces under his command against members of the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP). He also personally commanded a militia attached to the presidency whose only job was and still is to kill, torture and disappear political opponents of President Yahya Jammeh and his ruling APRC party. This militia, commonly known as “The Junglars,” is particularly deadly and lethal.
Lawyers, journalists and conscientious citizens are all part of their radar for elimination. In December 2003, Ousman Sonko allegedly coordinated the attempted elimination of Gambia’s senior lawyer, Mr. Ousman Sillah who was shot several times while driving home from a social event. Almost a year later, “The Junglars” hit again this time killing respected Gambian journalist Deyda Hydra who was shot in a drive-by shooting. Although the Gambia government denied any involvement in the killing of Hydra, a former member of “The Junglars” now based in Germany who said he personally drove the journalist’s killers in a State House vehicle, narrated how Ousman Sonko coordinated the whole operation.
In the same period, newspapers, radio stations and private homes of journalists were firebombed in a deliberate attempt to suppress dissent and freedom of expression and of the media.
Shortly afterwards in 2005, Ousman Sonko was moved to the police as the Inspector General. His tenure as the police chief was a painful memory for the members of the force. The police force was purged of its senior and experienced members on allegation of disloyalty. Sonko was given a free hand to run the police recruiting school dropouts and members of the Southern Senegalese MFDC rebels from Cassamance who President Yahya Jammeh use as tool of brutality against The Gambian people.
But it was Ousman Sonko’s elevation to position of Minister of Interior in 2006 that actually brought out his vile character. By this time, Sonko was already a trusted member of President Yahya Jammeh’s inner circle of dreaded killers, torturers and corrupt officials looting and plundering Gambia’s merger resources.
Political opponents and perceived enemies even within the armed forces were setup and implicated in pointless coups. Many political enemies and innocent hardworking members of the security forces lost their lives or forced to flee the country as a result.
As Minister of Interior, Ousman Sonko particularly presided over the slaughter of 54 innocent Ghanaians and other West African nationals in 2006. These were young, innocent migrants on their way to Europe illegally when they were dumped at the Gambian border villages by people smugglers. The security forces intercepted and accused them of being mercenaries. They were killed in the most gruesome manner using machetes, hammers and pistols.
Just six months ago, in April 2016, a group of UDP youth supporters were rounded by the police for peacefully demanding electoral reform ahead of Gambia’s general elections scheduled to take place in December 2016. Led by UDP youth leader Mr Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the group of youths including women, was immediately transferred to the torture chambers at the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA) where they were brutally tortured. The women among them were seriously violated. Solo Sandeng was wilfully murdered by his torturers again under Ousman Sonko’s watch.
UDP leadership who also came out demanding the release of Solo and the youths dead or alive were also arrested and manhandled. Subsequent peaceful protests by UDP supporters demanding the release of their members were brutally suppressed by security forces receiving instructions from Sonko. Many of the innocent protesters were arrested and severely tortured and kept under inhumane conditions.
Ousman Sonko especially coordinated with prison authorities to toughen prison and detention conditions for members of the UDP in total violation of every decent instrument meant to protect the rights of detainees. UDP detainees were routinely denied medical treatment, home cooked food, right to read the Quran and attend congregational prayers during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. One of the detainees, Solo Krummah who was earlier hit on the head by his torturers died in hospital after repeatedly denying him medical attention. Requests by his family to have access to him on his dying bed were flatly rejected by prison authorities.
One of the key allies of President Yahya Jammeh, Ousman Sonko allegedly planned, masterminded and executed orders from the President to commit horrendous crimes against innocent Gambians with glee. He was unapologetic and unrepentant up to the time he was sacked from his job.
It is our position that those who wilfully committed such alleged crimes against humanity should be prosecuted rather than be granted political asylum. That would serve as a deterrent to others. Anything else would definitely be a disservice to the battered people of the Gambia who continue to endure the bridle use and misuse of state power through their blood and tears.
UDP Diaspora Communications