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GPU Welcomes Sentencing of Ousman Sonko Over Torture of Journalists

May 15, 2024
SONKO-2048x831 Photo by Trial International
OUSMAN SONKO – Photo by TRIAL International

(Banjul, 15 May, 2024) – The Gambia Press Union (GPU) welcomes today’s verdict and sentencing of former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko in Switzerland to a 20-year prison term for crimes against humanity.

The Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona found Sonko guilty of multiple counts of “intentional homicide, torture and false imprisonment, as well as crimes against humanity”, on Wednesday.

Sonko, who earlier denied the charges, was sentenced to a 20-year jail term (minus approximately 7 years already served in custody). He will also be expelled from Switzerland.

The Court found Ousman Sonko guilty of the killing of a perceived political opponent in 2000; of torture and illegal detention in connection with a coup plot in March 2006; of the killing of a politician in 2011 and of deprivations of liberty as well as acts of torture – including one killing – of peaceful demonstrators in 2016.

He has been ordered to pay compensation to the plaintiffs according to the prejudices suffered.

“During Sonko’s tenure as minister, some of the worst crimes were committed against journalists, including the torture of former journalist Madi Ceesay, and Musa Saidykhan – both working for The Independent Newspaper back in 2006 – over the paper’s reporting of a coup attempt,” GPU Secretary General, Modou S. Joof, said. “Today’s verdict, strongly reflects our wishes and aspirations for justice for dictatorship-era crimes committed against Gambian journalists, and all other victims of grave human rights violations.”

Sonko’s conviction and sentencing comes almost six months after Bai Lowe, a former death squad member under ex-dictator Yahya Jammeh, was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara.

The Higher Regional Court of Celle, a northern town in Germany, found Lowe guilty on all charges of crimes against humanity on Nov., 30, 2023, and sentenced him to life imprisonment for the assassination of  Deyda Hydara in 2004, the murder of a former soldier in 2006, and the attempted assassination of a lawyer.

“These universal jurisdiction cases that have now been concluded in Germany and Switzerland and expected to begin in the USA with the trial of a former death squad member, Michael Sang Correa, have brought a lot of hope for justice for victims of crimes against humanity,” GPU President, Muhammed S. Bah, said.

“With steps being taken to establish a tribunal to try Jammeh-era crimes locally, we urge the Gambia government to expedite the process of seeking justice for journalists and all other victims of gross human rights violations suffered during Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorship.”

Demba Ali Jawo, who was President of the Gambia Press Union when Ceesay and Saidykhan were arrested and tortured, said: “Indeed, most Gambians, particularly victims of the Yahya Jammeh regime, have welcomed the verdict of the Swiss court, sentencing former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko to 20 years imprisonment.”

“We hope this would serve as a lesson to both serving and future public officials that justice would be served to those who violate the rights of the people, no matter how long it may take,” said Jawo, who is currently the Chairman of the National Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations. “However, some people wish that he should be repatriated to The Gambia to serve his sentence in the same harsh prison conditions that their victims had endured here.”

– Ends

For inquiries,

Contact GPU Secretary General

Tel: +220 348 0043

Email: pressuniongambia@gmail.com

 

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