Sierra Leone Telegraph: 01 May 2020:
As the government of Sierra Leone starts to count the cost to its image and reputation as a trusted partner for development and custodian of the country’s democratic credential’s, after the killing of eleven prisoners by armed presidential guard firing at protesting prisoners in Freetown, Amnesty International is calling for “prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the reasons that led to the riot and the heavy-handed response from prison guards who used live ammunition.”
This is the statement published by Amnesty International yesterday, Thursday:
Following a riot which took place yesterday in Sierra Leone’s biggest correctional service centre, reportedly resulting in the death of at least a prison officer, Marta Colomer, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Deputy Director, said:
“The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Freetown’s central prison on 28 April, causing alarm among people detained therein who live in severely cramped conditions. There have been some restrictive measures imposed by the authorities, including the prohibition of visits by their relatives.
“Prisoners are concerned about getting enough food after the prohibition on visits, as well as the spread of the virus and their ability to take preventive measures against COVID-19.
“Yesterday’s riot shows that prisoners are becoming increasingly desperate at the government’s inaction to protect their right to health. There must be a prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the reasons that led to the riot and the heavy-handed response from prison guards who used live ammunition. The use of force even resulted in the death of at least one prison officer who was reportedly hit by a stray bullet.
“We are calling on the Sierra Leone authorities to put their promises to release hundreds of detainees into action – unless overcrowding is eased and conditions of detention improved, there is a risk of further riots and infections. They should release all those held in pre-trial detention and consider the release of other prisoners at risk, such as older people and those with underlying medical conditions.”
The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Freetown’s correctional service centre on 28 April 2020.
It is not clear what started yesterday’s riot, but it became violent after inmates set fire to walls. Security guards shot live ammunition in response. According to information received by Amnesty International, a prison officer was hit by a stray bullet, resulting in his death.
To commemorate Sierra Leone’s Independence Day, President Julius Maada Bio announced the release of 235 prisoners nationwide on 27 April, but as yet there is no confirmation that they have been released.
Freetown’s prison was originally built for a capacity of less than 300 prisoners but today it has more than 1,000 inmates.
Even in times of emergency, law enforcement officials may only use force that is necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate objective, and must minimize harm and damage. International standards on the use of force require that intentional lethal force is only used where it is strictly unavoidable to protect another life from an imminent threat. (END).
There are fears the economic and investment costs of the killing of those prisoners may be very high, if international partners, donors and foreign investors decide that Sierra Leone is once again becoming far too violent, fragile and unstable.
How president Bio and his government handle this crisis will now determine Sierra Leone’s future, especially with the increasing uncertainty about possible crackdown on political opponents following the arrest today of the former social welfare minister in the Koroma government – Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.
It is not clear whether Dr Blyden will tonight be granted bail or locked up at the CID until Monday, without charge. It is understood that she is being represented by an all-female lawyers.