Ousman Sonko Declines to testify about Almamo Manneh’s Murder

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By Kemeseng Sanneh (Kexx)
(As reported by‘Trial International)

The trial of Gambia’s former Interior Minister under former President Yaya A.J.J Jammeh, continues to progress in the Swiss city of Bellinzona. Mr. OusmanSonko is standing trial for crimes against humanity such as torture, kidnapping, sexual violence and unlawful killings, among other charges. Mr Sonko is also accused of having participated in the murder of AlmamoManneh, a former member of the presidential State Guards of former president Jammeh in January 2000, as well as sexually assaulted his widow between the years 2000 to 2002, as well as having tortured, raped and sequestrated her in 2005.
When the case was called in the Swiss Court of Bellinzona, the accused person OusmanSonko, was asked to explain the details surrounding the death of AlmamoManneh. However, he declined to comment or speak about the issue saying he was bound by professional secrecy, to talk about AlmamoManneh’s death, and also denied all the rape charges brought against him claiming that he was not in the country at the time of thealleged events.
The Court then proceeded with the hearing of AlmamoManneh’s widow. Her lawyer requested OusmanSonko to be placed in a separate room, so that the plaintiff will not be able to directly confront him during her interrogation on the sensitive discussions.
Upon the Court’s questioning, the witness (name withheld), confirmed all the declarations she made before the federal Prosecutor in 2019, during the investigation phase. She stated that she did not know about the alleged coup her husband had been suspected of fomenting against the former President, and said during the night of the killing, her late husband received a phone call and then left their house, and said she never saw him again.
The witness explained how the accused (OusmanSonko) had severely abused her repeatedly from January 2000 to April 2002 as well as in 2005. She also recalled that from the mid-1990s, it was hell for any Gambian who was opposing the Government of former president Jammeh.She testified that after her testimony before the TRRC, she was contacted by women who had also been sexually assaulted, adding that a lot of Gambian women were scared to report their assaults and when they did so, they were not believed. However, the defence lawyer of the witness declined to make use of the right to ask additional questions regarding the rape and torture allegations she made during the investigation period.
When the accused person OusmanSonko was brought back to the courtroom, he explained that he was not aware of the reasons why AlmamoManneh would have planned a coup, nor was he aware of President Jammeh’s reaction to Manneh’s death.Sonko repeated his earlier position that he was bound by professional secrecy and will not comment further on the issue of AlmamoManneh. When confronted with the fact that the TRRC found him responsible for the murder of AlmamoManneh, he replied that he had not seen his name in TRRC’s compendium volumes A or B. Sonko was then confronted with a series of Gambian newspaper articles published after Manneh’s killing, referring notably to an “official release on a coup attempt” from the ministry of the Interior. In reply, Sonko said he did not know about the substance of this so-called release. According to him, the articles about the coup demonstrated that the Gambian press was free.
He further testified that he was in Sierra Leone for a UN engagement between 6 January 2001 and 21/22 January 2002, and only came back once to The Gambia for a break. The Court then informed the parties that mutual legal assistance had been requested from the UN to confirm the breaks taken by the accused and was waiting for an answer.
Meanwhile, on the alleged attempted coup d’état in March 2006, OusmanSonko,who is being accused of having tortured various people including members of the army, politicians and journalists,as an accomplice and member of a group of perpetrators, and of having illegally deprived them of their freedom as well as of having committed rape in Banjul (The Gambia), again denied all the charges brought against him.
The first witness called in the witness box regarding the above charges against Mr Sonko, said he is a Gambian citizen who started his career within the Gambian police force before being integrated into the national army. The witness narrated that in March 2006, his military superior Col. Ndure Cham was accused by the Gambian government of having fomented a coup d’état, and said he was arrested within the frame of the investigation related to this event.
The witness provided his statement in court and recalled having been arrested on 21 March 2006. He testified that during his first night of incarceration, he was brought from the Mile 2 prison to the premises of the former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) where he found members of the Army called ‘Junglers’, the NIA as well as the witness himself, MrOusmanSonko, along with the former DeputyChief of Defence Staff and head of the police major crime unit, asmembers of an investigation panel they set up for him. He further explained that on the night of his arrest, he was violently interrogated about his suspected participation in the coup, and was later taken several other times to the NIA and subjected to acts of torture with death threats. 
He testified that on several occasions, he was forced to sign statements against his will which resulted in beatings, and said he still suffers from serious physical and mental effects of the acts of torture he was subjected to.He recalled that the panel members including OusmanSonko, knew very well that people were being tortured during investigations in this case, and said he was taken before a judge, months after his arrest and was convicted along with others,to very long prison sentences. The witness adduced that he spent nine years in prison in extremely difficult conditions.
The witness further testified that during this time, the country was under extreme dictatorship, and people were arrested and imprisoned without being brought before any court of law, while others disappeared without trace. The witness concluded his statement by saying that this made people to live in constant fear.
The third witness to appear in court regarding the 2006 events was a former Gambian politician and member of the National Assembly.The witness, who currently lives in exile,said in March 2006, he was arrested within the frame of the investigation related to a suspected coup d’état against the former government of Jammeh.
At this juncture, OusmanSonko again denied all the charges brought against him by the third witness.The witness proceeded to confirm the statements he made during the investigation and according to his own words,he was kidnapped in March 2006 from the Parliament and taken to the NIA premises on several occasions.He testified that he was questioned on his suspected role in the alleged coup attempt and answered that he did not know anything about it. He said a written statement was prepared for him to sign and was stabbed when he refused to sign as instructed.He further testified that he was subjected on other occasions, to acts of torture as a result which he suffered from wounds on different parts of his body. He explained that he had been subjected to heinous crimes and humiliation which he never thought a man can do on a fellow human being, and said eventually, he was acquitted.He said despite his acquittal, he suffered physical and psychological consequences from the acts of torture he had endured and this has ever since affected him in his daily life. He said the political situation in 2006 was disastrous.
The next sitting on this case is the continuation of the March 2006 alleged coup plotters torture and other related events.