The Koroma government of Sierra Leone must uphold the right of citizens to peaceful protest

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 November 2016  

IMF conditionalities have returned to Sierra Leone with a vengeance; or have they?

Many in Sierra Leone are saying that the current economic downturn and austerity being imposed upon the poor people of Sierra Leone by the Koroma government, are the result of almost a decade of poor governance and massive corruption in high places, which have little to do with the IMF.

And there is growing sympathy across the country for mass peaceful demonstrations, against the government’s imposition of drastic spending cuts, that will further cripple the economy.

There are reports of the arrest of several students in the capital Freetown, who are also believed to have been tortured.

As the government and its supporters continue to pile on the blame on the IMF for its massive spending cuts and incompetence, few in Sierra Leone are surprised as to why after almost ten years in power, and with the half-hearted implementation of two incoherent national development programmes – ‘the agenda for change and the agenda for prosperity’, the country cannot withstand the twin shocks of Ebola and falling iron ore prices.

A government that understands how an economy works, and has the ability and political commitment to address the economic and social problems of the country, should be more than capable of responding to the challenges of eradicating poverty in Sierra Leone.

Did president Koroma and his APC party lie to the people of Sierra Leone about their capability, or were the people simply fed up with the SLPP government in 2007 and wanted change?

No matter the answer to this question, what is patently clear now is that the Koroma government is totally out of its depth in responding to the challenges facing the country. It simply lacks the leadership, vision, commitment, moral fortitude and expertise; and the people now want change.

Zhao Yanbo, Ernest Bai Koroma, Samuel Sam-SumanaIt is time for change, and the people must be allowed not only to express their democratic right to choose who governs them – once in every five years, but must be allowed to exercise their right to protest peacefully, whenever they feel that the government has lost its focus, as they have today.

But given the ruling party’s despotic and communist tendencies, the only agenda on its cards now is the use of brutal force to discourage peaceful protests by citizens, rather than educate a despondent electorate about the failures of their economic policies.

The people of Sierra Leone want their voices to be heard, and for the deaf and dumb in the ruling party leadership to listen.

(Take a listen to this concerned parent in Freetown, whose daughter Theresa Luseni Mboma, has been arrested along with other students, and are believed to have been tortured):

free-theresaStudents across the country have formed a campaign group to demand the release of their fellow students – in particular – Theresa Luseni Mboma (Photo), and said this:

“Theresa is a student of FBC who was arrested yesterday because of a post she allegedly shared in a whatsapp group about the unbearable economic hardship in the country.

“We are advocating for her release, because we know that her arrest is a calculated ploy to suppress students’ voice and intimidate them into submission to the unacceptable hardship in the country.

“We are therefore calling on all students to join us in the campaign for her immediate release. Intimidation tactics must not work against us. Let us emphatically demand the release of our fellow student and continue to constructively make our voices heard on issues affecting our country.

“One Sierra Leone – One United Students.”

In a statement published today, the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) is calling for “police compliance with citizens’ constitutional right to protest”. This is their statement in full.

In reaction to recent events that have ensued in the wake of the unprecedented hike in the pump price of fuel, the CHRDI wants to express dismay over the attitude and behaviour of the Sierra Leone Police Force towards citizens who raised dissenting views on the issue.

The CHRDI is of the conviction that the reaction of the Police to dissenting voices is tantamount to denying citizens the right to protest peacefully.

The CHRDI strongly believes that peaceful protest is a fundamental civil liberty and it behoves the Police who are enforcers of the law to recognise that right and ensure they provide the enabling environment for citizens to exercise it.

The constitutional responsibility of the Police in relation to the right of citizens to protest, stops at keeping the peace, protecting the citizens who want to protest and creating the enabling environment by ensuring crowd and traffic management as the case may be.

The CHRDI would like to emphasize that the right of assembly in a public place is truly one of the cornerstones of citizens’ freedom. It represents the exercise of the right to bear witness and bring peaceful pressure to bear on rulers who have acted against their interest.

Article 11 of the AFRICAN CHARTER ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES RIGHTS, also embodied in “CHAPTER III Of THE COUNTRY’s 1991 CONSTITUTION -THE RECOGNITION AND PROTECTION OF FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS OF THE INDIVIDUAL, clearly states in section 26 that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others.”

freetown-market-women-protest-3-jan-2013-politicoWe also want to state very emphatically that the Sierra Leone Police has no right to deny a fundamental freedom in this way. Their duty is to uphold Citizens rights, not to conspire against them. Police officers within the SLP should always guarantee the security of the people and not generate insecurity.

In the same vein, we cannot avoid the truth about a dysfunctional opposition led by a failed and tried leadership, who have betrayed the hope of the citizens’ just because we want to protect the legacy of the struggle for democracy.

We urge the government to take urgent measures to stop the intimidation and harassment of innocent citizens in the country, and create an enabling environment for the aggrieved to address challenging issues that hinge on national development and cohesion.

In view of all of the above, the CHRDI demands that the Sierra Leone Police stop this sneaky subversion of rights of assembly immediately and allow Citizens enjoy their full constitutional and Democratic rights to protest and make their voices heard if they think that those they voted for and entrusted with the responsibility to run the state have failed them.

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.

4 Comments

  1. The problems we are facing as a nation, are not only political, economic or social, they are tribal and regional divide, fuelled and driven by few people who called themselves elite. The majority of sierra Leoneans are non tribal or non-regional minded. But few elites are using these sensitive and devastating instruments to drive the country in that direction.

    If someone is wishing or calling for another revolution in Sierra Leone in whatever shape or form, he or she must be the number one enemy of the country.

    Have you forgotten that Sierra Leone had the largest UN deployment of 17,500 troops to help our Country be where it is today? It will not be in the interest of the country to call for war because our economic situation is just the same like those countries going through this economic depression.

    For example, before Mohammed Buhari came to power in The Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Naira was 250 to a British pound, one year on it has more than double to 560 to a pound. This has significant consequences on prices of essential commodities, and his Government is trying to borrow 31 billion dollars from the World Bank.

    Yes our people are suffering – not entirely as a result of the so called Government mismanagement, but as a result of the external economic environment that we have little control of, which our government is trying to address.

    No one should pretend that the job of governing a country is an easy one, especially on this weary uncertainty in the world economic arena.

    The APC government that Valentine Strasser and his military colleagues toppled then, was a different dispensation to the present APC administration of President Koroma. I am not an APC supporter, but we have to call a spade a spade.

    What the Koroma government has done for the country is great and does not deserve the kind of criticism coming from the opposing houses. President Koroma has done a lot to rebrand our country from the perception of barbarism to a nation with democracy with respect for human right and freedom.

    Calling for revolution is not the answer, the answer will be to organise ourselves and vote them out if we believed they have not performed well, because war does not know boundaries of political affiliation neither understand the language of stop the war.

  2. My botton line here is “let your sympathy don’t exceed your interest”. Most of the ministries cannot convince the people of Sierra Leone about their performance.

  3. When society needs change, it must not come with new wine in old bottle. In the case of Sierra Leone, neither the APC nor the SLPP has the magic wand to reverse the current situation, which they have created themselves, in the first place.

    Like any concerned, patriotic, democratic and freedom-loving Sierra Leonean, I believe the change Sierra Leone needs urgently is a cosmetic one, but a total dismantling of the corrupt, ineffectual and decadent system. Sierra Leone needs new crop of leaders to move forward.

  4. The present situation in Sierra Leone was like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and finally it has exploded, and now the question is who will pick up the pieces?

    I guess everyone is again looking forward to the opposition party as in the past, after APC’s 35 years of misrule which brought about the most brutal war in recent history – the limbs of innocent children chopped off intentionally and not through collateral damage.

    Hopefully this time, the revolution won’t start with a coup by the military when the youngest leader in history (25 years old Captain Valentine Strasser) seized power from a corrupt APC government.

    People in general seem to have short memory or just ungrateful to appreciate positive change. For instance, what the SLPP brought Sierra Leoneans again, namely; FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND DEMOCRACY, after 35 years of APC misrule, corruption and dictatorship.

    I also believe that the new austerity measures which does not include cutting military spending will boost up the paramilitary forces to quell down any demonstrations before the elections, because as in the case of Nigeria, Ghana and some Gulf states, whose major exports depend on oil, it made sense to remove the subsidies on fuel. But not Sierra Leone, which happens to have the most expensive fuel price in the world.

    I hope and pray this time around that the people will realize what APC really stands for, and reject them at the ballot box in February 2018.

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