Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 June 2019:
After yesterday’s chaos and violence in the west of Freetown’s district of Brookfields in Sierra Leone, the dust is yet to settle and the recriminations have started.
The police are being accused of serious human rights abuses, after they fired volleys of tear gas cannisters into the offices of the opposition APC party, where scores of party supporters and national executive committee members had gathered.
According to eyewitness reports, the police fired tear gas into the building after individuals in the building started throwing stones, bottles and other missiles at the police.
Many of the APC supporters were seriously injured and could be seen covered in blood and forced to sit on the floor without any emergency medical assistance in sight.
Several of those trapped in the building after inhaling smoke and tear gas, had to be dragged out to prevent suffocation.
The police are being accused of heavy handed tactics and human rights abuse. There are calls now for an independent inquiry into what took place yesterday at the APC party office in Freetown, which could have easily led to fatalities.
It is understood that some of the APC party executive committee members have been arrested and detained indefinitely.
Children as young as 12 years old are also believed to be among those arrested by the police yesterday. Their plight is uncertain.
Many ruling SLPP party supporters are justifying yesterday’s police action as retaliation for what took place at their party’s office in Freetown in 2009 under the Koroma led APC government, where scores of SLPP party supporters were badly beaten up and arrested, three women allegedly raped by APC supporters, and the party office set alight.
While such actions by the police cannot be condoned or defended, irrespective of which political party is in power, what is obviously clear now is that the continuous cycle of retribution and retaliation that has dogged Sierra Leone’s politics for over half a century must stop.
And what is truly ironic and pungent is that yesterday’s political violence comes on the back of a national conference held last week in Freetown, to foster peace and national cohesion in the country.
But it was the decision of the High Court yesterday to transfer constituency seats won by the opposition APC at the March 2018 elections to the ruling SLPP, that has sparked much anger among APC supporters.
This action by the court has slashed the APC’s majority in parliament, effectively making APC the largest minority party now in the country’s parliament.
But some legal experts and civil society groups say that the High Court’s decision is unlawful and unfair.
Yesterday, the Sierra Leone Renaissance Movement published this statement, condemning the court’s elections petition ruling:
“The Sierra Leone Renaissance Movement is concerned about the judgments delivered by the High Court today in several petitions against the election and continuance of some members of parliament as Parliamentarians, through questionable judicial decisions which removes democratic franchise from the people.
Firstly, the movement notes that the petitions filed in favour of the Sierra Leone People’s Party have been heard and determined while most of those of the opposition are yet to be listed for hearing.
Secondly, the Movement has examined section 146 of the Public Elections Act 2012 in the light of the orders declaring candidates who polled the second highest votes as duly elected members of parliament.
The Movement notes that section 146 of the said Public Elections Act 2012 is silent on the position of the law, when a member declared initially elected has his candidacy and election declared null and void by the Courts – while being clear in section 146(4) on what happens when the election itself is declared void.
The Movement has not found any legal justification, either statutory or a judicial precedent, for such a strange declaration by the High Court of Sierra Leone apart from the highly controversial decision by Justice A. Showers JA, in 2012 in the Hon. Sam May Lamin Macarthy V. Ansu B Lansana Petition – which the movement believes was predicated on no precedent and had no support in the electoral laws of Sierra Leone.
The movement believes that where such a situation arises, the proper position ought to be that a fresh election takes place in the affected constituencies and not an _ad hoc_ assumption of office by judicial proclamation, thereby leaving the constituents with no voice in the matter.
The Movement is weary of what seems to be the egregious abuse of its judicial powers and privileges by the Judiciary; that relies on such wrong precedents, with possibility of stoking the flames of discontent amongst aggrieved citizens and opposition groups.
The Movement reminds the Government of its commitment to the Rule of Law as so expressly stated by the President in the first State Opening of the Fifth Parliament in which he committed his government to refraining from “ acting unconstitutionally and scrupulously respecting the rule of law in the best interest of national development and stability”.
The Movement therefore believes that declarations and consequential swearing in of the new Members of Parliament, was in in violation of section 146 of the Public Elections Act 2012 though consistent with that legally flawed precedent highlighted earlier.
The Movement equally condemns the violence and intimidation by the police of opposition groups, especially women, as seen on videos shared on social media; but similarly calls on the opposition to raise issues with civility and channel their grievances within the framework of law and order.
The Movement urges the government, the opposition, the judiciary and other state and civil actors to ensure they safeguard the democracy of our nation, by ensuring to do justice at all times and in a manner, that does not derogate from established rules of procedure and extant laws.
We should also reform the electoral laws to forestall problematic interpretations that may undermine the peace and stability of Sierra Leone.
While there is clear need for reform and fair engagement on the issues herein highlighted, we urge all concerned to remain peaceful and continue to seek redress through legal and non-violent means including appeal and political engagement.”
Signed: Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah – Interim Chairman, Renaissance Movement (SL) (End of statement).
Calls for an independent inquiry into what took place at the APC party office yesterday is growing. The police are accused of serious human rights abuses.
Will president Bio order an inquiry to commence as soon as possible, in order not to leave an indelible stain on the reputation of his government?