Former Gambian strongman claims to be ‘shocked’ at testimony of prison torture in Swiss trial

Gambia’s former Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko, told a Swiss court he was ‘shocked’ to learn of protestors being tortured at the National Intelligence Agency in Banjul, in April 2016, and denied any knowledge or participation.

Sonko is currently on trial for alleged crimes against humanity carried out in Gambia during ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule. Sonko served as Jammeh’s police chief for a year in 2006 and later as interior minister for about 10 years.

Sonko was arrested in Switzerland in 2017 where he claimed asylum after a falling out with Jammeh. The Swiss Attorney General’s office, along with 10 plaintiffs from Gambia, brought the case against Sonko after being presented with evidence gathered by TRIAL International, a Swiss-based justice group. The case charges Sonko with torture, murder, false imprisonment, rape, and deprivation of liberty, allegedly perpetrated against Gambians during Jammeh’s rule.

In April 14, 2016, at least 14 supporters of the opposition UDP party were allegedly r
ounded up by members of the police intervention unit. Testimonies before the Swiss federal court and Gambia’s Truth Commission attest to protesters being handed to officials of the National Intelligence Agency, under whose custody UDP leader Ebrima Solo Sandeng was allegedly tortured to death. Sonko told the Swiss court that he learned of the death of Sandeng on April 16 from his then-police chief Yankuba Sonko.

The arrest and death in custody of Sandeng made news headlines that week. And the leader of the opposition UDP party, Ousainu Darboe, held a press conference at his residence, prior to his arrest, to denounce the alleged torture of party members.

Sonko, who denied any participation or knowledge in the torture of the protesters, said he only learned ‘much later’ what had occurred, and said the police acted ‘in accordance with the Gambian law,’ with ‘proportionate use of force’ when arresting them.

‘When I watched their interrogation video, I could not watch it for the second time… [their torture] wa
s wrong, and it was unacceptable,’ said Sonko. Sonko said as minister of the Interior, he had no control over the NIA or events that took place at their complex.

The Swiss prosecutors are trying to prove Sonko’s responsibility for torture through his participation in various investigation panels as inspector general or for ordering or abetting abuse as interior minister.

Court admits further evidence

On Thursday, Sonko lost a second procedural appeal since the hearing began eight days ago. Earlier this week, prosecutors filed additional archive material with the court from a Gambian newspaper detailing events related to the ‘illegal execution of nine Mile 2 inmates in 2012.’

The prosecutor argued the material supported their claims that Gambian authorities had carried out a planned and systematic policy of oppression while Sonko held positions as police chief and interior minister. The newspaper clippings show official and public warnings addressed to the population from the Ministry of Interior after the
execution of the inmates.

Sonko’s lawyer argued that the filing of the material should be rejected because the execution of the inmates was lawful and could not demonstrate a systematic attack against the civilian population.

The court ruled that the execution of the nine death row prisoners in 2012 is connected to the crimes against humanity charges in this case. The court admitted the newspaper archives into evidence. The court also admitted a 39-minute video of a June 2016 political rally in Tallinding-when Jammeh threatened to wipe out the Mandinkas, the majority tribe in Gambia.

In the video, Sonko allegedly made threatening statements, saying whoever holds a protest without a permit would regret it. ‘The emphasis was law and order. It was not meant to deny people permits. There was no evidence to show that after this statement, people were denied permits,’ argued Sonko.

Little clarity on asylum note

When Swiss prosecutors raided Sonko’s apartment in Switzerland after his arrest in 2017, they found
a handwritten note in a suitcase. He had previously denied the note’s existence, but on Wednesday, his position changed. He confirmed the note found at his apartment was written by him for his Swiss asylum procedure.

Sonko had previously told the court that parts of the note were inaccurate. On Thursday, he declined to answer why he would intentionally write information for his asylum procedure he knew was wrong. Sonko described in his note that he could not stay in Senegal, where he had initially fled, because of its proximity to Gambia.

He said he was followed to the Mbour, a coastal Senegalese settlement, a four-hour drive from Banjul. He also claimed to have received a directive to harass opposition figures and deny them ‘police permits’ to protest.

He told the court that part of the note, in which he claims Jammeh gave him orders ‘to shoot and kill the April 14 to 16 demonstrators,’ was false.

The prosecutors argued that the note’s contents are consistent with testimonies heard before the Swiss court
, testimonies before the Truth Commission, and evidence gathered by Swiss investigators. ‘To me, you are vague. You have not made reference to any concrete thing,’ replied Sonko.

More torture

Musa Saidykhan, a former editor-in-chief of The Independent newspaper, told the court he was detained for 21 days between March and April 2006 and allegedly tortured. He said his hands were broken three times.

‘They used a torture equipment I never knew Gambia had… They electrocuted me on the back of my neck and my genitals. I felt dizzy and fell down,’ said Saidykhan.

‘My right hand was broken three times. They sliced my jaw with a bayonet,’ he said. Saidykhan was arrested and allegedly tortured with Madi Ceeday, the then-manager of The Independent, who is one of the plaintiffs due to testify against Sonko on Friday. In 2010, the regional Ecowas court awarded Saidykhan $200,000 in damages for torture inflicted in state custody.

Source: Ghana News Agency

Four persons accused of stealing cigarettes remanded

Four persons have been remanded by the Accra Circuit Court Three over an alleged theft of bundles of cigarettes and others valued GHC67,000.00.

Prince Adjei, student, 22, Emmanuel Ajei Klu, 20, Joseph Opata, 24, Diana Asheley Trebi, 23, trader, the accused persons, denied conspiring to steal 222 bundles of cigarettes valued GHC40,455.00 and 68 cartons of hard drinks valued GHC 27,045.00, all to the tune of GHC67,500.00 belonging to Madam Josephine Ntre.

Their alleged accomplice, who is 17 years, admitted the offence and he was convicted on his own plea, but the case has been referred to the Court’s registry to reassign it to the Juvenile Court for sentence.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy also believed to have taken part in the alleged crime failed to attend Court.

The Court presided over by Mrs Susanna Eduful asked that the accused persons should be brought back to the Court on January 24, 2024.

Police Inspector Teye-Akuffo told the Court that Madam Ntre, the complainant, was a businesswoman, residing at
Gonno School Area, Teshie. The 17 and 15-year-old boys were her house helps.?

He said Adjei was a student whilst Klu and Opata were the complainant’s shop attendants, and that Diana was a Trader.?

Inspector Teye-Akuffo said the complainant owned a wholesale and retail beverage shops at her house whereas Prince and Diana were the complainant’s former employees as Klu and Opata are currently working with complainant as shop attendants.?

The Court heard that the complainant recently conducted an audit in her shops and found out that, between January 2023 and August 2023, two hundred and twenty-two (222) bundles of cigarette valued GHS40,455.00 and sixty-eight (68) cartons of hard drinks valued GHS27,045.00, all to a total value of GHS67,500.00 had been stolen by the accused persons. Complainant found an Iphone 7 plus cellular phone valued GHCl,700.00 in the possession of the 17-year-old boy.

When he was questioned to that effect, Prosecution said, he mentioned Prince as the one who bought it for him out of t
he proceeds of the stolen goods at the time Prince was working with the complainant.?

Inspector Teye-Akuffo said this led to the arrest of the 17-year-old who also helped the arrest of other accused persons.?

During investigations, both minors (17- and 15-year-olds) and Klu confessed to having stolen the said goods with Prince, Opata and Diana, the Police told the Court.?

After investigations, the accused persons were charged with the offences and put before court.

Source: Ghana News Agency

SOCO Project: Upper West Region receives GHS48 million for phase I

About GH?48 million has been disbursed to the eleven Municipal and District Assemblies (MDAs) in the Upper West Region for the first phase of the Gulf of Guinea Northern Ghana Social Cohesion (SOCO) project implementation.

That amount was to implement 127 sub-projects across all the MDAs in the region, Mr Daniel Botwe, the Minister of Local Government, Decentralisation and Rural Development (MLGDRD), said.

He added that about GH?107 million had been allocated to the region for the second phase of the project, which is expected to commence soon.

Mr Botwe revealed this in Wa during a Consultative Workshop on SOCO Scoping Report and Digital Knowledge Management Platform organised by the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) in collaboration with MLDGRD and the Project Implementation Unit. (PIU).

The workshop, among other things, provided a platform for experts, indigenes, and academic and professional groups to be informed about the SOCO project and review the Scoping Report and the Digital Knowle
dge Management Platform, offering suggestions and ideas for improvement.

A total of 48 Municipalities and Districts in six regions in Northern Ghana – the five regions in the north and Oti Region – are benefiting from the 150 million Dollar SOCO project.

Mr Botwe explained that the funds were readily available for the execution of the projects and that there should not be any reason for the delay to any project.

‘This money is available, it has been sent to this region, 48 million Ghana Cedis. No contractor or consultant will work and say we done this work, and we are waiting for payment, no, the money is available. have

So, if the project is not going as, it should and you go to the Municipal and District Chief Executives, the Coordinating Directors and they are giving excuses, no,’ he explained.

He therefore urged the media and other stakeholders to monitor the implementation of the sub-projects from their start to completion to ensure they were implemented to yield the expected results.

The Minister
indicated that they had trained MDCEs, Coordinating Directors, Finance officers and other key actors at the assemblies to adequately prepare them for the project implantation.

Mr Botwe reminded the DCE among s and Coordinating Directors of the provisions of the Local Government Act, 2016 (Act 936), which other things, enjoins the Assemblies to play effective coordination roles of the activities of development partners and promote development at the district levels to bring the government closer to the people.

Mr David Quaye Annang, the Vice Chairman of the NDPC, who chaired the programme, indicated that the SOCO project was expected to address challenges such as the threat of spillage of violent extremism in Ghana from the neighbouring countries and vulnerabilities caused by climate change and to strengthen local institutions and provide economic opportunities for the youth.

He said interventions of the government and Non-governmental Organisations in the past to address the development challenges in the c
ountry were inhibited by the lack of coordination and fragmented approach to those interventions and called for strong collaborations among stakeholders.

Dr. Hafiz Bin Salih, the Upper West Regional Minister, indicated that the project was a game changer and had put the region on the development pedestal.

He called for strong collaboration and partnership between the MLGDRD and the NDPC, the Regional Coordinating Council and MMDAs in the implementation of the SOCO projects to help achieve the expected results.

Mr Bright Atiase, Chief Analyst at the NDPC, who presented the Scoping Study Report, expressed hope that the report would be launched in March 2024.

The report covered areas including local economic development; digital technology and innovation; conflict and migration; social cohesion; climate change and governance.

Representatives from the security agencies, government agencies and departments, MDCEs and Coordinating Directors, development partners, youth groups and students among others attended
the workshop.

Source: Ghana News Agency

Ghana Blind Union celebrates Carruthers Tetteh

The Ghana Blind Union has extended its congratulations to Mr Carruthers Tetteh (ESQ) a blind individual and practising lawyer with Roseford Advocates and Legal Consult for his appointment as a law Lecturer.

A statement issued by the Ghana Blind Union (GBU) signed by Dr Peter Obeng-Asamoa, the Executive Director said Mr Tetteh was now in the position to contribute to the development of this nation by training lawyers for the country.

‘Indeed, he stands as a symbol of determination and achievement for all persons with disabilities,’ it said.

‘Carruthers triumphantly navigated the difficult maze of academia to get to this point. He first proved his mettle by attaining first Class for his first degree in 2015 and another first Class in 2019 when he read for his Bachelor of Laws (LLB).’

The GBU said that when opportunity is provided, blind people and therefore persons with disabilities can achieve their aspirations and contribute to the development of the nation.

‘Although the appointment of Carruthers Tette
h as a lecturer in the Law faculty was based on requisite qualification, the Authorities of the University of Cape Coast have demonstrated that discrimination should not find space if true inclusivity is to be realized.

Indeed, the University of Cape Coast has proved in no small way that it possesses the visionary qualities befitting of an institution where the future leaders of our nation are trained,’ the statement said.

The Ghana Blind Union called on all organisations both public and private to emulate this example to give persons with disabilities the opportunity to contribute national to development.

Source: Ghana News Agency

‘Fiapre fire victims were deeply in love’- Bereaved family shares story

The two victims who died in a fire outbreak at Fiapre in the Sunyani West Municipality, were deeply in love before their tragic death, Madam Janet Fosuaa, the mother of one of them has revealed.

Alex Antwi, 35, and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Sherifa Adiza, were burnt beyond recognition when fire razed a four-bedroom house at Fiapre, near Sunyani in the early hours of Thursday January 18, 2024.

Their charred bodies had since been deposited at the Sunyani Teaching Hospital mortuary for preservation.

Eight other occupants of the house, including five children, however, managed to escape unhurt when the inferno started around 1230 hours.

Madam Fosuaa, said the deceased had been in a relationship for some years now, saying ‘they were so obstinate that nothing could separate them,’ though both families were strongly against their relationship.

‘I persistently tried convincing my son to end the immoral relationship, however, nothing could separate the two,’ she stated in a flimsy voice, when Madam Justina Owu
su-Banahene, the Bono Regional Minister visited the fire scene to commiserate with the bereaved family.

The Regional Minister was accompanied by Mr Evans Kusi Buadum, the Sunyani West Municipal Chief Executive.

Madam Fosuaa explained that her deceased son had been unemployed for some years now, until the Sunyani branch of the Metro Mass Transit Limited offered him employment last Monday January 15, 2024, only for him to die through the disaster.

Madam Owusu-Banahene sympathised with the bereaved families and asked them to take solace in God.

She also advised the public to endeavour to put off all electrical appliances before they left home for work or slept at night.

She advised landlords to engage certified electricians and used standard materials to wire their houses.

Source: Ghana News Agency

Dawan promotes rights of TB Patients in Northern Region

Dawah Academy (DAWAN) A Development Oriented Islamic Faith Based Non-Government Organisation (NGO) is leading the implementation of a project dubbed ‘promoting the human rights of people with and affected by Tuberculosis (TB) to services’.

It is being implemented in Gushegu, Yendi, Karaga, Tamale, Bimbilla and Sanarigu Districts of Northern Region in partnership with inspire To Act, a women and youth focused rights Organisation Operating in the Northern Region.

Mr Abdul-Karimu Ibrahim Afa Zie, the Executive Director of Dawah Academy based in Tamale announced this in a welcome address during stakeholders meetings organised by DAWAN for Imams, Pastors, Health worker, Social Welfare staff, and Volunteer focal persons on TB, to discuss human rights-related barriers to accessing health service by TB patients in the Northern Region.

He said the stop TB partnership was a global multi-stakeholders partnership supported by USAID and the Global Fund Strategic initiative which seeks to achieve a world without tuberc
ulosis through facilitating catalyzing and coordinating the work with its partners to promote and affected by TB and gender equality.

According to the Executive Director the project was working to end TB by the year 2030 which should be a disease of the past.

He said after the meeting the pastors, imams, chiefs, some would be selected to carry out the campaign on TB in their Churches, Mosques, and Palace amongst others.

Alhaji Abdul-Rashid Imoro Executive Director of Inspire To Act said the overall goal of the project was to address and reduce human rights related barriers to TB services and access to quality health care through capacity strengthen health staff, partnership with religious leaders to advocate against stigma and discrimination of people with and affected by TB and community awareness creation to increase the knowledge on TB and its associated effects.

He reminded them that awareness creation on TB would reduce the risk of spreading the disease at meeting places, homes, communities, work pla
ces and it was important for the public to know that the drug to cure TB was free to encourage people to check at various health facilities to find out if they had the disease with long time cough.

Source: Ghana News Agency