By TRIAL International, 10th January 2024
Day 3: Examination of the early 2000s charges
(murder of Almamo Manneh and multiple rapes as crimes against humanity)
Ousman Sonko is being accused, among other charges, of having participated in the murder of Almamo Manneh, a former member of the State Guards, in January 2000 and, of having sexually assaulted his widow between the years 2000 to 2002 as well as having tortured, raped and sequestrated her in 2005.
The accused explained that he was bound by a professional secrecy that prevented him to talk about Almamo Manneh’s facts and contested all the rape charges, claiming that he was not in the country at the time of the events.
The Court then proceeded with the hearing of Almamo Manneh’s widow. Her lawyer requested that Ousman Sonko be placed in a separate room, so the plaintiff cannot be confronted directly by him during her interrogation. Given the sensitive discussions at stake, the female judge led the examination.
Upon the Court’s questioning, the plaintiff confirmed all the declarations she made before the federal Prosecutor in 2019 (during the investigation’s phase). She also stated that she had no knowledge of the alleged coup her husband had been suspected of having fomented against the former President. During the night of the killing, her late husband received a phone call and then left their house. She never saw him again.
The plaintiff explained how the defendant had severely abused her repeatedly within the period of January 2000 to April 2002 as well as in 2005.
She also recalled that from the mid-1990s, it was hell for any Gambian who was opposing the Government. After her testimony before the TRRC, she was contacted by women who had also been sexually assaulted. A lot of Gambian women were scared to report the assaults and when they did so, they were not believed.
The defence lawyer declined to make use of the right to ask additional questions to the plaintiff as regards the rape and torture allegations.
When taken back to the courtroom, the accused explained that he was not aware of the reasons why Almamo Manneh would have planned a coup, nor was he aware of President Jammeh’s reaction to Manneh’s death. However, he repeated that he was bound by a professional secrecy and could not comment further. Confronted with the fact that the TRRC found him responsible for the murder of Almamo Manneh, he replied that he had not seen his name in TRRC compendium volumes A or B.
Ousman Sonko was then confronted with a series of Gambian newspaper articles published after Manneh’s killing, referring notably to an “official release on a coup attempt” from the Department of the Interior. The accused said he did not know about the substance of this so-called release. According to him, these articles about the coup were in fact the demonstration that the Gambian press was free.
He explained that he was in Sierra Leone for a UN engagement between 6 January 2001 and 21/22 January 2002 and only came back once to The Gambia during this period of time for a break. The Court informed the parties that mutual legal assistance had been requested from the UN to confirm the breaks taken by the accused and that it was waiting for an answer.
Coming next: Hearings on the March 2006 alleged coup plotters’ torture events.
This article was first published by TRIAL International in the link below.