DAKAR, Senegal — Gambia’s attorney general on Wednesday called a onetime beauty queen “brave” for coming forward with accusations that the country’s former president raped her, and asked others to speak out if they had similar accusations about events that occurred during his 22-year regime.
Fatou Jallow, who won the national beauty pageant in 2014, said President Yahya Jammeh raped her after she turned down his marriage proposal. She spoke about the assault for the first time to The New York Times in an article published Tuesday.
The accusations by Ms. Jallow, known as Toufah, jolted the country of two million and were widely shared on social media by Gambians and those in the diaspora. Mr. Jammeh could not be reached for comment through intermediaries known to be in touch with him and has issued no official response.
“The attorney general salutes the courage of Ms. Jallow for speaking up and sharing her story with the world,” Abubacarr M. Tambadou, Gambia’s attorney general and minister of justice, said in a news release, “and for exposing yet another serious allegation of reprehensible conduct by former President Jammeh, who abused his position as head of state to the detriment of many Gambians.”
Mr. Jammeh lost a 2016 election but refused to step down for weeks until regional leaders negotiated his safe flight to exile in Equatorial Guinea, where he remains. He has yet to face consequences for widespread accusations of murders, beatings, unjustified imprisonments, threats to behead homosexuals and literal witch hunts.
On Wednesday, Mr. Tambadou cited the report in The Times and said Ms. Jallow, who was 18 at the time of the alleged rape, was “a young and brave girl.” He called on other women to come forward about experiences with Mr. Jammeh “in any manner they see fit,” including in testimony before the nation’s Truth and Reconciliation and Reparations Commission set up to air crimes under the former regime.
“It is only through speaking up and exposing such despicable acts, especially by those in positions of power, can we effectively combat the scourge and menace of sexual violence against women and girls in our society,” Mr. Tambadou said.
Gambia’s truth commission will hear testimony later this year from women who say they were sexually abused after being arrested or who faced economic hardship while their husbands were imprisoned or when they disappeared after being arrested. Ms. Jallow, who received asylum in Canada in 2015, is scheduled to testify.
The commission will hear testimony for another 18 months before deciding whether to refer cases for prosecution.
Its hearings have offered gripping viewing for a nation bent on reconciling with its past. Hearings are live-streamed on the internet, and tens of thousands of Gambians tune in.
On Wednesday, Yankuba Touray, a former military officer who helped bring Mr. Jammeh to power during a 1994 coup, showed up at a hearing but refused to testify, citing “constitutional immunity” and causing a ruckus in the commission’s hearing room.
Mr. Touray, who has been accused of rape, torture and murder, was immediately arrested. He had been out on bail since an earlier arrest in March, when he was accused of interfering with witnesses who were scheduled to testify before the commission.
A group of lawyers from Human Rights Watch and Trial International are pushing for Mr. Jammeh to face criminal charges in court, a move complicated by the fact that he is being sheltered by the authoritarian regime in Equatorial Guinea, home to Africa’s longest-serving president. Its leaders have been accused of misusing the country’s oil revenue for their own gain and have a reputation for emerging unscathed from various legal actions taken against them.
For instance, Teodorin Nguema Obiang, vice president of Equatorial Guinea and son of the president, was convicted of embezzlement in absentia in a Paris court two years ago. He resolved United States Justice Department charges for using public funds for private gain by selling his Ferrari, a mansion in Malibu and Michael Jackson memorabilia.
Last year, Brazil seized $16 million in cash and watches from his delegation when he arrived at an airport there.
Yet Mr. Obiang’s Instagram account is filled with images of him aboard luxury yachts, on a safari, riding a beach cruiser down a coastal bike path, and being entertained by hip-hop stars at lavish parties. Some show Mr. Jammeh as among the guests.
Seeing those images has been galling, Ms. Jallow said in an interview.
“I know what I had to go through — the shame, the healing, the trauma,” she said.
At the same time, she said, the images helped her gather courage to go public with her claims. “I want him to hear the story from me,” she said.