Ousman Sonko, a top member of the repressive Gambian regime of ousted president, Yahya Jammeh, has applied for refugee protection in Switzerland, Bern’s police chief confirmed on Wednesday, 25 January.
Sonko, a former long-serving interior minister, has been staying in an asylum centre in Bern since November 2016, police chief Hans-Juerg Kaeser said.
The ex-minister, who fled Gambia after Jammeh sacked him last September, reportedly first sought residency in Sweden, but his asylum claim was rejected, before landing in Switzerland. Sonko fell out with Jammeh already before the president was voted out of office in the December election.
Sonko was a key figure of Jammeh’s repressive rule, and he ordered the detention and torture of government critics, Gambian opposition politician Alhasana Jobarteh and human rights lawyer Yankuba Darboe told Swiss public broadcaster SRF.
The former minister has also been accused of partaking in extra-judicial killings of perceived political opponents of Jammeh. Sonko has been implicated in the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara by some regime members. Hundreds of Gambians disappeared during Jammeh’s rule.
Analysts say Sonko is an intelligence encyclopaedia on Jammeh’s oppressive regime and rights abuses, “having coordinated and directly participated” in them.
Sonko, who presented a diplomatic passport to Swiss authorities, was assigned to Bernese cantonal authorities in mid-November after undergoing interrogation protocols, Kaeser told the Swiss News Agency.
The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is following the case. It regulates the conditions under which people can enter Switzerland to live and work and decides who will receive protection from persecution.
Jammeh, who ruled the small West African nation for 22 years with an iron fist, had refused to step down after he was defeated in the December election. He finally left for Equatorial Guinea on Saturday, 21 January after weeks of pressure from ECOWAS leaders including the incursion into the country of a regional intervention military force.