Female student in Sierra Leone arrested and detained for sharing WhatsApp message

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 November 2016

A twenty-three year old female student – Theresa Mbomaya, was last weekend arrested and detained at the maximum security prison in Freetown, for sharing a WhatsApp message she herself did not create.

According to the Koroma government, she committed a crime against the state, after receiving and passing on a WhatsApp message calling for an all out street protest by students.

Since the government’s decision last week to remove the subsidy it pays on fuel as well as introducing a thirty-percent increase in tariffs on household electricity and water utilities, the costs of basic food items and transportation have more than doubled.

The withdrawal of subsidies comes, following years of poor financial and economic management. This has been compounded by a 60% fall in export revenue since 2014.

The government has run out of cash. Senior ministers are becoming very desperate, hypersensitive and less tolerant towards anyone criticising or calling for public protest against the massive cut in public spending and the economic hardship that is now unfolding in the country. It seems senior ministers and ruling APC grandees have become bully-boys.

Theresa today appeared in Court in Freetown to answer to the charges brought against her for sending a Whatsapp message she herself had received calling for a student protest.

Sources close to the young woman’s family say that Theresa had been tortured while in custody, so as to set an example to students across the country that the government will ruthlessly crush any sign of civil disobedience.

protesters-in-freetown-calling-for-the-release-of-theresaBut the minister of information and communication – Mohamed Bangura, issued a statement yesterday, 19th November, defending the arrest and detention of Theresa. This is what he said:

“The attention of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) has been drawn to concerns being made especially on the Social Media that the Government is clamping on free speech following the arrest and charging to court of Ms. Theresa Mbomaya. (Photo: Protesters outside the Court in Freetown). 

“The Ministry wishes the general public to know that Ms. Mbomaya was arrested and subsequently charged for the offence of “incitement contrary to law and publishing false information contrary to the Public Order Act of 1965”.

“It is therefore disingenuous on the part of a cross-section of the media, especially the multitude of WhatsApp fora, to categorically state that Ms. Mbomaya was invited to the CID because of her participation and “activism” on the Social Media.

street-protest-calling-for-the-release-of-theresa“The public would recall that prior to her arrest, Ms. Mbomaya and others through a Press Release allegedly associated with them had seek to threaten public safety by threatening to set ablaze any vehicle found plying the streets across the country and by ordering all mini buses (poda poda), taxi and other private drivers to stay off the streets on the night of Thursday, 17th November, 2016. “The Release also issued specific threat to the families of our Law enforcement officers by threatening to use them as shield in the event the Police try to stop them from carrying out their threat. (Photo: Protesters in outside the Court in Freetown).

“Whilst the Government continues to respect, uphold and promote the fundamental human rights of the citizens as provided for and enshrined in the 1991 Constitution of our country, the public is also reminded that whilst these rights remain sacrosanct, they also come with responsibilities as provided for same in the very 1991 Constitution.

free-theresa“It is on this basis that the Government has absolved itself from the issue as the Sierra Leone Police and the Judiciary are now handling the matter. It is against this background that the Ministry of Information and Communications wishes to once more reiterate Government’s commitment to respect for Free Speech, the rule of law and the independence of it institutions to carry out their functions as enshrined in the 1991 Constitution whilst at the same time executing its onerous responsibility to protect the rights of the general public free from acts of lawlessness with the potential of loss of lives and property. (Photo: The detained student – Theresa Mbomaya).

Sierra Leone police“Government will continue to recognise the importance of the Social Media, especially if it is used responsibly in continuing to promote good governance, democracy, the rule of law, peace and stability and NOT to foment chaos that would compromise the hard-won peace and democracy we all as Sierra Leoneans dearly fought for.

“The Government, through the Ministry of Information and Communications, wishes to assure the general public that there is peace and tranquillity throughout the country and that the general public should go about their normal businesses without any let or hindrance.”

This is the Whatsapp message alleged to have been received and passed on to friends by Theresa, that got under the skin of the minister of information who has for a long while been threatening to clampdown on the use of Facebook and Whatsapp in Sierra Leone by students and young people, afraid it might be used to promote an ‘Arab Spring’.

“We the students of this country are calling on all Poda poda Drivers, Taxi drivers, Provincial drivers, Private drivers, vehicle owners to stay off the streets on Thursday night 17th November 2016. This is as a result of the continuous hike in fuel and other commodities costs. We want the Government of Sierra Leone to know that we the citizens are not happy and wants a redress of the situation. Stay off the streets.

“Any vehicle found plying the streets of the country will be set ablaze. We m repeat ANY VEHICLE FOUND PLYING THE STREETS OF SIERRA LEONE WILL BE SET ABLAZE. We are tired and want an immediate redress. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

“Note: We want the Sierra Leone Police to understand that we are not afraid of them and we will be using their children, wards and relatives as shields in case of any attempt to distort out activities on this day.”

But there are serious doubts by some security analysts in the country as to whether this Watsapp message was truly written by students to incite such violence.

Condemnation of the government’s decision to curtail civil liberty in Sierra Leone has been swift.

alie-kabba-and-lawyer-francis-ben-kelfala-one-of-theresa-lawyersResponding to the ministry of information’s clampdown on the use of social media in the country, the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) ‘strongly condemns the move to monitor and possibly block access and usage of social media and considers the order as unjustifiable, unlawful and inexcusable’. (Photo: Lawyer Francis Ben Kelfala – left, and Alie Kabba – right, in Court today to support the release of the detained student). 

CHRDI issued this statement:

“We call upon the government to recognise that the 1991 constitution makes parliament the sole law making body in the country and that no law exists in our law books that regulates the use of social media.

“Therefore the issue of an executive order on the use of social media by an ordinary appointed Ministry official without the consent of parliament is unlawful and in excess of the powers given to the Executive in the 1991 constitution.

“We also wish to remind the Sierra Leone Communications Commission of its mandate to provide an enabling environment for access to the Internet and not work in the contrary.

alie-kabba-with-family-of-the-detained-student-theresa“We believe that the attempt to order mobile networks to block social media when there are no justifiable circumstances that warrant it is aimed at curtailing Internet freedoms. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights clearly states that; ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’ (Photo: Alie Kabba in support of the family of the detained student).

“The above should be read in line with the 1991 constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone under Chapter 3 section 25 that provide Protection of Freedom of Expression and the Press, (section 25-1): ‘(1) Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purpose of this section the said freedom includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, freedom from interference with his correspondence, freedom to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions, and academic freedom in institutions of learning’.

“This Political interference in the use of the Internet is unjustified and an unlawful. Any behaviour seeking to control the use of the Internet now will have terrifying effects on how citizens use the internet and exercise their online freedoms in future.

“Any action intended to protect national security has got to be justified without necessarily using national security as a conduit to undermine the enjoyment of online rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

“The United Nations Human Rights Council resolution affirms that internet freedom is a basic human right and that people have the right to freedom of expression on the internet.

“Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world and falls within the category of countries who still need to do more to create access to the internet for a huge chunk of its citizens through the establishment of the necessary infrastructure and online security.

“In pursuance of our avowed goals of ensuring that Human Rights are not unduly violated, Campaign for Human Rights and Development International wishes to make the following specific recommendations:
1. Refrain from impeding the rights of citizens to enjoy their constitutional right of freedom of expression and to enact measures that promote the use of Internet and privacy of citizens online.
2. Enact a privacy and data protection bill into law to prevent further cases of data misuse
3. Government should investigate cases of inhuman and degrading treatment of online activists and ensure errant officers are punished.
4. Government should desist from compromising the independence of state institutions.
5. Bridge the knowledge gap by making Internet accessible to all including women, young people and the rural populace.
6. Bridge the rural-urban digital divide through connecting rural areas and strengthening the national backbone.
7. Strengthen the independence of the Judiciary and avoid any perception of interference in the work of the judiciary.

Note:

Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) is a Rights based social-policy advocacy Organisation. We Draw attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights. CHRDI is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to many UN Agencies.

11 Comments

  1. If it is really true that a student was arrested for forwarding a comment on whatsapp, well, I don’t know where our beloved country sierra Leone is heading for. Those kid’s are our future. I can’t believe that was really what happened.

    The president attended one of our universities in sierra Leone and has lots of traveling experience. So, my heart is broken to see a poor girl arrested.

    If that is the legacy our brother is planning to leave behind, that will be surprising. The world is difficult now as the end time is coming closer, we as elders must listen to these kids and make ways and hope for their future.

    If they know that their future is in Jeopardy, then it is a problem for this government. As much as I love my country, I will advice the president to refrain form all those bad rules and embrace the youths as they own the country.

    Mr. President, as one of the political observers and a native of sierra Leone, don’t listen to bad advice and Just continue working for your country as a head. I saw you passing the last time I visited home. I don’t see you as a bully but a gentleman who was voted in democratically.

    I saw our city with roads well graded and lights. A lot of development I saw with my own eyes. Even the area where I built my little house is well done.

    Please, continue with your legacy and the country will miss you and the truth will always be revealed at the end.
    Politic is not my cup of Tea, but our kids need to have some boundaries in terms of respect and public morality.

    That will take you to a far journey and you can eat with the king. We as parents need to advice our kids to stay in school and focus in a better goal of achievement.

    The world is difficult anywhere you go. You must seek that thing called Blessings to make it. You must be humble and respectful and knowledgeable. Don’t take the law into your hands. Please refrain from all negativity and help yourselves positively.

    I am a father. I don’t take any mess with my kids or anyone, but love to see my kids respectful and focussed in their daily school activities.

    My last advice is for our leaders to give hope and future to our kids or we will lose them. That is my take. My opinion.
    J.C.Keita (Keitus)

  2. Our children will never be stopped!! They will stand hard and firm and in support . Am grateful to all those lawyers of integrity who stood firmly to defend the innocent, especially Ben Keifala.

    Also greatly appreciated is the presidential hopeful Alie Kabba…who like Theresa and her colleagues, fearlessly stand for what they believe in. May God give him the opportunity to lead and take Sierra Leone out of this wreckage.. Bravo to you all!!

  3. Comments on national issues based on tribal sentiments and provocative of others feelings do not contribute to a civilize debate, aiming at building a society free from confrontation with its own people. We should focus on issues and present logical and plausible arguments that would lead to real solutions. But some among us though a very little number are engaged in pointless arguments and tumultuous debates.

    These people should learn to present creative initiatives for a more positive environment and endeavor to practice and manifest such qualities as respect, and consideration for others, and an atmosphere of love and harmony to emerge among us. We as a majority disapprove of any kind of hateful utterances with intention to create antagonist divisions in the society.

    Our common goal is to fight against bad governance, power abuse, corruption and graft, and ultimately poor service delivery by our governors and the people’s parliamentary representatives.

    The issue on debate right now is about the freedom of the people to express their views and opinions on matters that concern us directly, whether political, social or cultural, and the freedom to use the social media at our need without fear of persecution by government.

    We live in a global world of freedom of expression and constructive opinions. It is our human right and, we wouldn’t allow any government to step on this right.

    The case of the arrest and detention of the student Teresa Mbomaya for sharing a WhatsApp message has got some implication in it due to the contents of the message. However, there had been an overreaction and disproportionate exploitation of the issue, the government seizing the advantage as to setting bright example so as to intimidate other students who may be thinking to do the same.

    The minister of information and communication kept the people suspended for a couple of days without a public statement on the case against the young woman until a fellow minister had to call his attention in strong terms to show up publicly.

    In my modest opinion, the case should have been handed over to the Interior ministry for the police to carry out a thorough investigation to locate the source of the message and verify whether it is an organized group that intends to unleash violence against social peace or simply a group of disgruntled students of a circumstance. Keeping Teresa in remand for a couple of days was not called for.

    Teresa is not a terrorist she is simply a disgruntled citizen who may be willing to join others to express her frustration against the government underperformance. There had not been any act of terror committed either by Teresa or those who process the information.

    It is now the responsibility of the police to be on alert and work to stifle any attempt to unleash mayhem to the society if they scale this threat as high risk. They now have the information.

  4. The APC party has just lost a major battle in politics, which is the battle for public opinion. Presently, to wage a war against social media is just an act of stupidity.

    The only medium through which you can freely express your opinion without fear of repercussion is supposed to be the social media. Freedom of speech and expression is a human right, according to the constitution . Even terrorist or racist organizations have that right.

    The APC should also respect that “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. I’m really surprised that the government classified Theresa’s sharing of that Whatsapp message as an incitement, instead of expression of dissatisfaction with the government or outrage.

    The APC should also accept the fact that the role of an opposition party is to disagree with your point of view, based on the fact that there is always room for improvement and not to create instability.

    The APC should also realize that in a democracy, you should always be ready to agree to disagree. Lastly they should accept the fact that in life ” Your perception is your reality”, so they should not expect everyone to see things their way.

  5. From observation and the look of things, our country is on the verge of democratic decay and freedom of expression depreciation. The Government has used all five gears and all have failed. It has now resorted to use of remote control.

    Our economy has just started to decline and people should brace themselves for the worst. Currently, people are living on less than half a dollar per day, and this will drop drastically as we enter the new year. The rural people are receiving the worst side of this economic decay. People are dying and malnutrition has increased tremendously.

    If we are still quoting the 1965 Public Order Act, I am afraid, political unrest, economic depreciation, natural calamities and human sufferings have always characterized successive APC governments.

  6. This is not a new strategy for the APC government to curb on social justice and democracy whenever they are in power.

    They are known to be ruthless to anyone who opposes their government for their ill-begotten riches from their corruption, mismanagement and embezzlement of state funds.

    Theresa has been arrested because she is from the south of the country and obviously she is a Mende girl in the prestigious university of Sierra Leone, where people from the north can only dream of, if it were not for their relationship to those in power.

    Whenever APC comes to power, they will stop at nothing to deter Mendes from progressing. This poor girl is being used as a scapegoat when even their own people are disgusted right now with the regime.

    • Mande, Temne, Krio, etc. I don’t see the issue here. The situation in hand I’m afraid, undermines your tribalistic perception. Mendes are not the only ones affected by the country’s backwardness.

      The vast majority of the population, which consist of all tribes, are distressed with great disappointment of our state of being. I just can’t fathom how the incident invokes that tribalism is the impetus.

  7. President Koroma and his APC cronies are running out of ideas. Look at Mohamed Bangura – this is someone who falsified his academic qualifications and lied to parliament and the people of Sierra Leone about it, and this is the same man who has been appointed by this puppet and bigot of a president whose sole intentions are to steal from the country and to oppress the poor and the weak.

    This APC government is worse than that of its predecessor Siaka Stevens, because he has murdered many more Sierra Leoneans than Siaka Stevens; he conspired with the West to kill our people with the man-made Ebola virus.

    How can a country like ours participate in a research of which we don’t have any knowledge, we don’t have the professionals, the scientists, the technology, the expertise, the technicians to monitor and report to parliament what the research is all about.

    The west have been doing this in Africa for far too long now with corrupt leaders, politicians and governments with no exception to that of president Koroma.

    President Koroma this is a promise to you and your corrupt government colleagues you will pay for the misery suffering, intimidation, suppression and harassment you and your government colleagues have impacted on the lives of the people.

    You came to office with a pair of shoes and a very old Nissan car – now you own almost everything in the country. It is very sad to see that there is no credible opposition to the APC government.

    Your sole intention and determination was to escalate corruption to its maximum level and beyond. All that you have done to the people of our country is treasonable and by the grace of Allah no matter how long it takes you and your government colleagues will be held accountable and charged with treason and no human being on earth will save you or them.

    Unless a divine intervention by Allah, we will make it a law in our constitution to charge and execute all corrupt leaders, politicians and civil servants with treason.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*