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Switzerland expands Gambian investigation

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The Swiss Federal Prosecutor is digging deeper into alleged crimes committed against humanity in Gambia. Keystone

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor has expanded its criminal proceedings against former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko. The ex-official, who came to Switzerland seeking asylum last year, is accused of crimes against humanity. 

Sonko is thought to have commanded Gambian police, prison staff and others to torture people. Based on statements by several criminal and civil prosecutors as well as witnesses, the prosecutor’s office has now raised new allegations against Sonko. However, it declined to elaborate when asked for details by Swiss public television, SRF. 

Sonko applied for Swiss asylum in November 2016. The Swiss authorities opened a criminal investigation against him in January 2017. In May, they extended his prison detention by three months to delve deeper into the investigation. 

As interior minister, Sonko is accused of commanding a special squad known for its brutality against citizens. Trial International, an international justice NGO, accused Sonko of having personally taken part in what it described as torture. Sonko served under ousted Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh. 

Swiss involvement

Sonko was a Gambian army commander and director general of the police before serving as interior minister for ten years until 2016. Last year he fled to Europe after being fired from his post by the former president. After failing to find asylum in Sweden, he applied in Switzerland in early November and had been living in an asylum centre in the capital, Bern. 

Switzerland has jurisdiction in the case because of a 2011 law that allows it to investigate anyone on its territory accused of serious international crimes, regardless of where the alleged atrocities were committed. 

Gambia is also investigating claims of torture and killings under the old regime. In an exclusive interview with Swiss public television, SRF, current Gambian President Adama Barrow as well as Interior Minister Mai Fatty called for Sonko to be handed over to Gambian authorities. 

Ousted Gambian leader Jammeh fled to Equatorial Guinea in January after stepping down under pressure from West African nations to accept his December election defeat to Barrow.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR