Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 September 2019:
Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has today taken an unprecedented step of not only naming those education officials alleged to have been involved in exams fraud, but have gone one step further by publicly shaming them on the streets, in the central district of Cotton Tree in the capital Freetown.
The accused examination officials were this afternoon lined up at the Cotton Tree Junction, opposite the Freetown Law Courts Building, with placards fastened on to their chest.
Some of the placards read: “I am a teacher who was arrested for obstructing law enforcement personnel from carrying their duties”; “I am the teacher who was arrested on 07/09/2019 by the ACC and other law enforcement agencies for exam (WASSCE) malpractices”; “I am the Principal who was arrested on 07/09/19 by the ACC and other law enforcement agencies for exam (WASSCE) malpractices”.
Handcuffed, looking broken and bewildered, the detainees who are yet to appear before the High Court on corruption charges, are being paraded to the general public by the ACC as an example of what could befall anyone taking part in examination malpractice in the country.
Last Saturday, investigators of the ACC raided an examination centre in the far east of Freetown where they arrested these exam officials, including the principal and three others. The ACC also took away various items from the building which they say are clear evidence of their culpability and involvement in examination fraud.
They are alleged to have been caught helping private examination students take their exams after receiving bribes of over One Million Leones, equivalent to about £110 Sterling per student.
But human rights experts are questioning the legitimacy of today’s tactics of publicly shaming the accused before they are charged to court. They say that it breaks the fundamental human rights principle of “innocence until proven guilty by a court of law”.
Article 5 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration says that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Reactions on social media have been overwhelmingly against the decision to publicly parade and disgrace those arrested and waiting to be charged to court , where the ACC and police will have the opportunity to prove their guilt.
These are some of the comments:
“All teachers and principals should stop work immediately. This has just further undermined whatever was left of the psychological credibility of the teaching profession. Education has just been finally slaughtered! People in other offices do far worse, and they are not treated like this. WHAT HAS GONE WRONG WITH OUR COUNTRY? NO COURT HAS PROVEN THESE PEOPLE ARE GUILTY; and even if they have been, this is not the way to treat the credibility of the profession.”
“I support the fight against corruption but I disapprove of this. By the way aren’t the suspect innocent till proven otherwise by a court? These teachers have rights, and are innocent until they go through a court trial and found guilty.”
The former Attorney General and former head of the ACC – Joseph Franklyn Kamara said: “Public parading of suspects before due process of trial is against the presumption of innocence as enshrined in the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, Section 23(4). This is a dangerous precedent that opens the floodgates for abuse.”
Another commentator said: “While we endorse the fight against graft, it is equally our responsibility to ensure that it is done within the bounds of the Law.”
“Public naming and shaming people involved in abuse of office and any form of corrupt practices is fine and good. But this done by the Anti-Corruption Commission to alleged perpetrators of the most recent WASSCE writing at Peacock Farm in Wellington on Saturday is not just abuse of human rights against those arrested but pre-emption of justice. This is like already convicting an accused even before he is tried in a court of law, inconsiderate of the fact that by law, accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law. The suspects are under investigation for onward charging to court, but having tagged them in various ways the ACC officials have done, what if any of them is acquitted and discharged in future? I am not a legal mind, but this method of doing things by the ACC officials to appear like knights in shining armour is by human reasoning, pre-emptive of justice. If anything, they should have waited until the perpetrators are proven guilty before naming and shaming them the way it has been done.”
“If this is the way people who offend are going to be treated now, then we might as well close all police stations and all the courts.”
“Have you checked Section 7 (1) of the ACC Act? It states under the Functions of the Commission that the ACC should: (a) to take all steps as may be necessary for the prevention, eradication or suppression of corruption and corrupt practices”; to which someone replied: “Save that he or she as commissioner shall not breach any of the provisions of the 1991 Constitution guaranteeing the freedoms and human rights of citizens. Presumed innocence until proven guilty is one such rights.”
“Welcome to Sierra Leone where our constitution is being interpreted by lawyers and activists as per their political Affiliation. Our 1991 constitution has been ripped apart.”
“No we are no longer under any law. Sierra Leone is in tatters. These are some of the issues that fanned the flame of Civil War. But we are not learning as a nation.”
“I love the fight against corruption and malpractices in examinations, but it should be within the confines of the Rule of Law!
Publicly parading suspects of malpractices with ‘guilty’ tags is definitely in conflict with the presumption of innocence as prescribed by Section 23(4) of the Sierra Leone Constitution Act No. 6 of 1991. This singular act is not only repugnant and repulsive, but falls within vile territory. It is true that no one is above the law; but it is also true that no one is below the law. Due process of the law must be followed”.
“Why were politicians and civil servants who agreed to repay state funds they stole not paraded around the streets of Freetown, but teachers are paraded with tags without even due process. They should be charged and tried in a court room, not paraded in front of cotton tree.”
Finally, this commentator says: “Is this the new judicial form of punishment in salone. Very troubling”.
What must be said though, is that the young head of the Anti-Corruption Commission – Francis Ben Kaifala, is doing a great job in fighting corruption. But there is risk now of jeopardising all this good work by today’s action.
Hopefully, today’s action will never be repeated, and the ACC and law enforcement agencies can go about their lawful job of investigating, charging and taking to court, anyone suspected of corruption without breaching the human rights of suspects.