All parties have been heard: Summary of the proceedings of the third week of the trial of Ousman Sonko


(22-24 January 2024, Federal Criminal Court, Bellinzona, Switzerland)

Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona
©TRIAL International / the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, Switzerland.

Examination of the March 2006 charges in relation to the persecution of journalists

(acts of torture, false imprisonment and sexual violence committed as crimes against humanity)

As part of an attempted coup d’état in March 2006, Ousman Sonko is being accused, as an accomplice of a group of perpetrators, of having tortured various people, including members of the army, politicians and journalists, of having illegally deprived them of their freedom, as well as of having committed a rape in Banjul, The Gambia.


18 and 22 January 2024 – Days 9 & 11

The plaintiff called to testify has been a Gambian journalist since the 1990s. In the 2000s, he occupied a senior position at national renowned newspaper “The Independent”. In March 2006, The Independent published several articles to report on the attempted coup against Yahya Jammeh’s government.

The plaintiff recalled having been arrested at the end of March 2006. Without explanations on the reasons for his arrest, he was transferred to the National Intelligence Agency’s (NIA) headquarters, where he had to endure terrible acts of torture at the hands of the Junglers. On one occasion, he met Ousman Sonko and NIA staff there.

Upon his release on bail at the end of April 2006, he had to go to several hospitals, but the doctors refused him treatment out of fear, as it was clear that he had been tortured. He consequently fled to Senegal with his pregnant wife. He suffered severe physical and psychological trauma from what he went through. His whole family is traumatized, including his son.

At The Independent, everyone was persecuted, the question was not if someone was going to be arrested but when. According to the plaintiff, torture and tyranny started with the Jammeh regime.


23 January 2024 – Day 12

The plaintiff called to testify is a Gambian journalist since the 1990s. In 2006, he was occupying a senior position at the national renowned newspaper “The Independent” as well as within the Gambia Press Union (GPU). He was arrested at the end of March 2006, after the newspaper published several critical articles, discussing the coup attempt against Yahya Jammeh. In 2017 and 2022, he was elected as a parliamentarian for the UDP Party.

The police officers who arrested him at his workplace, first drove him to the Police Intervention Unit’s headquarters, where he saw many of his colleagues. He was then brought to the National Intelligence Agency, where he was detained for several weeks and interrogated about the articles he wrote. He suffered physical injuries and psychological trauma from the violence he went through.

At some point, he was taken before a panel, including Ousman Sonko, then Inspector General of Police (IGP). He was explained that he was targeted as journalist, especially one working for this newspaper.

At the time, the political situation was terrible. According to the plaintiff, The Gambia was hell between 1994 and 2016: Jammeh was a tyrant, justice was selective and unfair, the parliament was not free.


Procedural highlight

Upon hearing’s resumption on 23 January 2024, the defense filed a written affidavit from Ousman Sonko’s former wife dated 22 January 2024. According to the defense, this document highlights the accused’s personality especially in private.

The Prosecutor argued that the document was irrelevant for the defense but would not oppose to include it in the casefile if it was important to the accused.

The plaintiffs deferred to the court as to the admission of this document in the proceedings, however stressed that it had no significance in Swiss legal practice and that hearing her as witness was neither necessary nor recommended given her proximity to the accused and defense team and her attending of the trial.

The Court accepted the document into the casefile.


Interrogation of Ousman Sonko on the examination of the March 2006 charges

(acts of torture, false imprisonment and sexual violence committed as crimes against humanity)


23 January 2024 – Day 12

Ousman Sonko was called to testify and confronted with the outcome of the investigation as well as to the plaintiffs’ additional statements made before the Court, with regards to the above-mentioned charges.

The accused explained that the Gambian police was a respected force. He repeated that he only had non-operational duties as Inspector General of Police (IGP) and that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) was never under his control. All investigative panels were set under the NIA and upon Yahya Jammeh’s orders. He contested the TRRC’s conclusions stating that he was responsible, as IP, for the torture of people allegedly involved in the coup attempt.

Amongst other statements, the accused affirmed that, on 21 March 2006, he was a member of the investigative panel for the first time, only as an observer, when the interrogations had already started. He visited it once or twice. His presence was required to release people, apologize for their arrest and detention. He had no knowledge of any acts of torture and it was not in his power to prevent them.


23-24 January 2024 – Days 12-13: Evidence requests, procedural decision and trial suspension until March 2024

The 23rd of January 2024 marked the termination of all the parties’ hearings. In accordance with the procedural code, the parties were then given the opportunity to request additional evidence.

The Prosecutor and the plaintiffs recalled that several persons could still be heard to prove the existence of a system of repression in The Gambia in the 2000s, and that the casefiles of two recent Gambian cases in other countries could be added as evidence.

The defense criticized TRIAL International’s support of the plaintiffs as well as the independence of the lawyers vis à vis the organisation.


On 24th of January 2024, the parties were invited to reply.

The defense’s arguments against TRIAL International were considered to be diversionary tactics, who withdrew its request.

The Court accepted some evidence material into the casefile.

However, the hearings of additional witnesses were rejected. It also refused to include documents from other cases and rejected all the requests of the defense.

The Court informed the parties that the phase of presentation of evidence is closed and that the closing arguments will take place during the reserve week of 4-8 March 2024. (date subject to change)


>> This summary of the third week of the proceedings of the Ousman Sonko’s trial, lists the most important points discussed during the hearings. TRIAL International does its best to summarize as accurately as possible what was said. The organization cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. <<

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