BANJUL, Gambia — Gambian authorities have acknowledged that prominent opposition activist Solo Sandeng died after his arrest in April, Human Rights Watch and the slain campaigner’s lawyer said Friday. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon had demanded an investigation into the reported death of Sandeng, a senior figure in the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP). He was detained after taking part in a rare demonstration calling for the resignation of President Yahya Jammeh. His death — which Amnesty International says came after he was tortured — sparked further protests and arrests. Human Rights Watch (HRW) told AFP that UDP sources and the party chief’s lawyers confirmed the government had officially acknowledged the death in court. A lawyer for Sandeng’s family confirmed the move, adding that it came in an affidavit as they seek to secure the return of his body. “Even if he is dead, his body should be produced by the state,” the lawyer said. In a copy of the affidavit seen by AFP, intelligence chief Saihou Omar Jeng acknowledges that Sandeng “unfortunately lost his life” during the “process of arrest and detention.” “The government has accordingly set in motion an inquiry surrounding his death,” it adds. Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said this explanation was not good enough. “The Gambian government’s recognition that Solo Sandeng died during his arrest and detention is a first step in ensuring accountability for those responsible,” he told AFP. “But the government’s explanation of the circumstances of Sandeng’s death have so far been wholly inadequate.” Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, rules the Gambia with an iron fist. His regime is regularly accused by rights groups of making opponents forcibly disappear.
Last month he blasted the U.N. and Amnesty International for demanding an investigation into Sandeng’s death, saying they could “go to hell.”