The Swiss authorities have extended the detention of the former Gambian interior minister, Ousman Sonko, by another three months. An investigation is continuing into whether he committed crimes against humanity while in office in the West African state.
"In view of progress, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General has requested for a three-month extension of pre-trial detention,” spokesperson, Linda Studer, told AFP on Wednesday.
Sonko, who served under ousted Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh, must remain behind bars as an investigation by the attorney general’s office continues.
The former minister has been in pre-trial custody since January after the Geneva-based legal group Trial International filed a criminal complaint against him and he was arrested on January 26 by the Bern authorities.
As interior minister, Sonko is accused of commanding a special squad known for its brutality against citizens. The organisation Trial accused Sonko of having personally taken part in what it described as torture.
Since his arrest, two victims, supported by Trial, have filed criminal complaints against the former interior minister.
“Both of them were tortured by the Gambian authorities while the suspect was at the head of security services, first as the Director General of Police and later as the Minister of Internal Affairs. Ousman Sonko is accused of having personally taken part in these acts of torture. Further complaints could still be lodged against him,” Trial said in a statement on Wednesday. external link
Sonko was a Gambian army commander and later worked as 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 interior minister’s 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, the new Gambian President Adama Barrow as well as Interior Minister Mai Fatty called for Sonko to be handed over to Gambian custody.
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.