Calls growing for independent inquiry into yesterday’s political violence in Sierra Leone

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?

12 Comments

  1. The JUDICIARY has at last given there own side of the story. According to an official from the JUDICIARY who was interviewed by two AYV MEDIA GENIUSES, Phebean and Stella, the APC’s claim of 33 petition cases in the waiting was not true.

    What was interesting during the entire interview was, to see how these two well EDUCATED, SKILLFUL and PRAGMATIC media GENIUSES Phebean and Stella, just like Khadija were asking tough questions, which kept the official from the JUDICIARY looping with the same answers. He was just on the defensive throughout the entire interview. OH BOY!

    At first, the official did not want to say what happened with the cases the APC were alleging to have filed. He kept saying that, they were with the registrar if I am not mistaken. But, these two MEDIA GENIUSES kept pushing until he finally admitted that, the cases were abandoned. Can you imagine that? AH TELL YOU.

    In my view, people must be well informed and well prepared before having interviews/discussions with EXPERTS like PHEBEAN and STELLA on AYV live TV. GOD BLESS both LADIES for that FANTASTIC AND GENIAL INTERVIEW. Our LADIES just keep excelling on everything their MALE COUNTERPARTS can do. It’s really AMAZING.

    The official hinted on the restrictions of human rights under certain circumstances, which was true. What I would like to say to the official is that, being an old or young judge does not matter in terms of the job they do. The most important thing is to do their job without fear, favour and be independent/neutral. DISCUSS.

    The problem why most people were blaming the JUDICIARY and the POLICE when the problem began was, there were no BRIEFINGS/STATEMENTS made by both institutions. It was all too little too late. Again, in my view, the JUDICIARY just like the POLICE needs reform. From the interview, one can conclude that the idea that the JUDICIARY must not make statements on matters because of their independence must change.

    If the JUDICIARY is accountable to the people, then, it must have a way to communicate with them in such volatile situations. By doing so, the ordinary people who are most times the victims in such situations will avoid being misled by anyone. If people were informed in advance about the status of the PETITIONS, then, in my view, what happened on that day would have been avoided.

    Now that all sides have given their own stories, the President maybe will find a way to push for reforms for the POLICE, the JUDICIARY and the ELECTORAL SYSTEMS. These are very important institutions that need to work effectively. What is happening in our country is very unfortunate and unacceptable. I have said it in the past and will repeat it again, we just need a POLITICAL DIALOGUE to sort out this MESS.

    Finally, although I am not a lawyer, the two judges gave the correct rulings in terms of the law. To be honest, I blamed the judges (the 33 APC cases delayed) because of the news blackout on the matter when the verdict was given. But now, the air has been cleared. Justice was done. The MPs can appeal the verdict, which is what should be done.

    The only issue that still surprises me, is why no by-elections were organised in areas where the APC MP’s lost their SEATS. Reforms for these institutions should be made as soon as possible. GOD BLESS SIERRA LEONE. AMEN AND AMEN.

  2. The police have finally made a public statement through their Media Officer over radio. The police must have organised this interview long ago to keep everyone informed. But they kept mute. However, we now know their own side of the story.

    According to the police Media Officer, there was a meeting between the police management and the APC leadership before the demonstration. He further explained that, the police were concerned about a particular statement in the letter from the APC to their supporters. But the APC leadership gave them the assurances that nothing bad will happen.

    On the whole, the Media Officer was on the defensive and also failed to answer very important questions by one of the best radio reporters/journalists – Khadija Bangura over the police brutality. What a FANTASTIC and SKILLFUL way of interviewing people. One should be very prepared before facing reporters/journalists like Khadija. Well done Khadija Bangura. GOD BLESS YOU. You asked the very hard questions that everyone wanted the police to answer. AH TELL YOU!

    The officer admitted that it was right to fire teargas into the APC headquarters. He said that, not only the civilians suffered from it but, the police too. I hope the IG will not be happy about that part of the interview. If the police should have got the right RIOT GEARS (gas masks, shield, etc) nothing bad should have happened to them.

    Where has the money for such materials gone? Also, firing teargas in a compound filled with people is not just right. Everyone saw in real time what was happening on TV. Thanks to AYV. What could the Media Officer tell the woman that was hit with GUN BUTT on her head, tear-gassed and her money stolen by one of the officers? Was she lying?

    The officer also said that anyone who feels that he/she was assaulted can report the matter to the police. But how can they do that, knowing that they could be arrested. Some of these people are now just scared. The police must identify and compensate them as a goodwill gesture. They just have to build that trust between all those who were brutalised wrongfully.

    The media officer said something concerning human rights which in my view was fair for him to mention. He also spoke about the police act which was also very good. But everybody saw what happened although the officer said, they have a covert video that was shown to journalists. People would like to see that video in the future if it does not compromise any investigation or national security.

    To be honest, there were mistakes made by the police in executing their duties. The Media Officer hinted that the police must be regarded as humans. We all know that humans can make errors. Although he did not elaborate on that point, it was clear what he meant. However, the statement was appeasing. We should be fair in our judgement not only on the police but by any other institution of government that goes over the mark. At the same time, we must all know the difficult job the POLICE are faced with everyday.

    You can clearly see from the videos and the interview with the Media Officer that the police is not well equipped and fully trained. They have to go to the drawing board to look at the rules of engagement, the way they recruit and most importantly to equip the police with the right type of gears for the right purpose.

    Now that we have heard from everyone, what should we do to move forward? I believe that, demonstrators should know that, although they have freedom of expression, movement, etc, they also have a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights during any demonstration at all times.

    They must also know that these rights can be restricted if the government can prove that their actions are unlawful or dangerous to public order. Political parties must inform their supporters on such basic rules. The law must just be respected.

    However, the actions of the police or the security forces on the other hand must be proportionate to the actions of the demonstrators. Use a water canon vehicle where a water canon vehicle is necessary and even use teargas where necessary. But they should not fire teargas inside buildings that housed people. It can choke or suffocate people and lead to death.

    Also, the police needs reform, training, tools and equipment to carry out their jobs correctly and good intelligence capabilities. On the average, they are doing their best. We can criticise them if they make mistakes which are unacceptable but, we should also work together with them to find durable and lasting solutions to the problems. At the end of the day, they are helping in assuring our security. They are our Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, Sisters, you name it. We should just show them respect. I hope they have learnt their lesson.

    Finally, I would like to thank all the opposition political parties and especially the IRON LADY Madam Femi Claudius-Cole for her courage during such a dangerous moment. The OPPOSITION spoke with one voice this time around which was very encouraging. GOD BLESS SIERRA LEONE. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, let’s work together and move forward. AMEN AND AMEN.

  3. Andrew, what I am doing is, comparing the force and BRUTALITY used, to the crime. You are right by saying that, every citizen must respect the law. But on the other hand, the police should have found a skilful way to diffuse that situation. They claimed that, APC supporters were throwing stones at them from their HEADQUARTERS. But look at the videos and the pictures. The police were not even in their appropriate RIOTING EQUIPMENT/GEARS.

    For example, there were no rioting shields etc which is used in civil disturbances. They came in COMBAT GEARS. It was really RIDICULOUS. If they should have been in their complete riot gears and used their skills with PROFESSIONALISM, nothing serious should have happened to them. What is the POLICE doing with the money for buying RIOTING GEARS?

    Andrew, we should also remember that, there were passersby who were going about their daily activities peacefully, but they were caught in the CHAOS and also wounded.

    So, we must all condemn that brutal act. However, I agree with you that, citizens must be law abiding and play by the rules. The police too must make the correct judgment and also use the appropriate rules of engagement when carrying out their duty. Thanks Andrew for bringing your concerns to my attention.

  4. PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC LEAGUE

    P.D. L.
    1 Zara Lane, Portee, Wellington, Freetown, Sierra Leone. West Africa.
    Email:sierraleonepdl@gmail.com; salpedel1986@gmail.com

    3 June, 2019

    EID AL-FITR MESSAGE TO ALL MUSLIMS IN SIERRA LEONE

    On the occasion of the Feast of Breaking the Fast (Arabic: Eid al-Fitr), we, of the People’s Democratic League (PDL) wishes all Sierra Leonean Muslims blessed, peaceful, harmonious and joyful Eid al-Fitr Al-Mubarak, which will be celebrated tomorrow, Tuesday 4th of June, 2019.

    During Holy Month of Ramadan hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide fasted from dawn to dusk and offered up their prayers to the Almighty Allah to attain righteousness, peace and prosperity for families, loved ones and the Ummah at large. The Feast of Ramadan and the Eid Al-Adha are the most important celebrated occasions in Islam. These days are perceived as a time of happiness and solidarity and reconciliation.

    During Ramadan Muslims had the opportunity to understand and to perceive the value of a peaceful together, good-neighborliness and solidarity. The fast-breaking ceremony in the evenings has become also a social event in which new friendships have been established and existing have been intensified. Beyond the social aspects the holy month of Ramadan was a time in which each individual could practise self-discipline and spiritual purification.

    Ramadan gave us the opportunity to feel the presence and nearness to Allah and to review our tasks and role towards the Creator and humankind. This year Ramadan has brought the people of Sierra Leone to the forefront of our attention with the heartbreaking images of political violence and other human rights abuses in the country. Ramadan has provided a stimulus to Muslims to be generous in their response.

    At the present time our national body politics faces many challenges and many provocations. In Sierra Leone today, there are those who hate others for belonging to the wrong religion or tribe. This is exactly what the late Justice Hamilton’s PPRC (Political Parties Registration Commission) did to disenfranchise the PDL from participating in the 2018 general elections.

    These are challenges that we must respond to with a consistent message: that we oppose collectively all such provocations and insist that there is no place in our traditions for violent response. In solidarity with each other we will resist all attempts to induce violence by a constant message of peacefulness and reconciliation. But again, we will not condone any act that is at variance with the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.

    By doing good deeds and turning away from bad habits we have adopted the universal values of Islam. It is now necessary to sustain with these values also after the month of Ramadan for the whole life. The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) recommends in this regard: “The deeds most loved by Allah are those done regularly, even if they are small.” (al-Bukhārī, Īmān, 32; Muslim, Misāfirīn, 221)

    The PDL reminds all Mosques and Islamic Centers across the country of the importance of taking all the necessary safety precautions and measures during the mass prayers festivity. That we advise all Mosques and Islamic Centers not be used on the occasion as platform to incite hatred or spark political violence.

    PDL commends the Sierra Leone Police and other law enforcement agencies for their vigilance and assistance in making sure all Muslims in Sierra Leone can celebrate their occasions freely and safely.

    In the hope of that all our fasting and prayers were accepted we wish all Muslims in Sierra Leone and the whole Muslim world a blessed, peaceful, healthy and joyous Eid al-Fitr! May the festival contribute to unity, peace, reconciliation among all Sierra Leoneans.

    Happy Mubarak!

    Sender/Signed:
    Alimamy Bakarr SANKOH
    Leader and National Chairman
    People’s Democratic League (PDL)
    For and on behalf of members and supporters of PDL.

  5. Personally, I thought that the APC party should have learned from the incident during the first opening of parliament when our current charismatic and diplomatic Speaker of Parliament was voted for – that any act of violence in this dispensation has consequences. Since that incident, the police has been putting up restraint especially when the APC members have been acting like cry babies and sometimes putting up temper tantrums which was ok because the police are having no problems baby sitting them.

    But putting up violent behavior by throwing objects on our family members (police) and burning tyres on the streets to suffocate pedestrians and residents in the area is unacceptable in any civilized society, and definitely deserves a reaction from the police.

    The reality is there is always a tendency to have collateral damages in any violence. I personally believe that the leadership of the APC (former president Koroma) will be popping his champagne bottle in his palace bunker since ( in his world) his plans to make our country ungovernable whenever his party loses an election or at the Judiciary.

    I was a bit disappointed because to see the narcissist publicity secretary of the APC, who is good at making threats and incitement against the law authorities running for his life instead of standing up and putting a fight like a real man.

    My advice to the APC party is to always try to use their brilliant legal minds which I personally believe they have in abundance (examples are Dr. Abdulai Conteh, Frank Kargbo, Joseph F. Kamara) to name but few – for advice to settle their judicial disputes instead of engaging in violence, because most of the time only the poor and innocent supporters suffer the most .

  6. As much as I condemn the excessive shooting of tear gas into the APC headquarters by the police, I want to ask the following questions;
    – why was Thursday and Friday (30.05.2019 to 31.05.2019) termed as “Red Days” by the APC Party?
    – why did the APC Party executives not stop their supporters from blocking the street, throwing stones/bottles and burning of tyres in front of their headquarters?
    – why till today Yansaneh and CO never tell their followers to be law abiding citizens?
    – had APC not openly stated many times that their optimum goal is to make Sierra Leone ungovernable?

    Opposition means also responsibility to the State and its Apparatus. No one is above the law and the APC must know that and stop endangering the safety and lives of their party members just for a handful of Leones and food.

    APC is still a force to reckon with in Sierra Leone and that’s why I keeo on calling for progressive members to take control of this party because EBK is holding not only the APC Party but also Sierra Leone to ransom.

  7. Why then at the previous time the candidate did not maintaine the electoral law? This precedent was set by APC during Koroma led government and because it turn around now that is why funny APC are calling for imquiry.

    Yes it is good but it will be deeply based on their corrupt practices during the Koroma led government. The APC don’t want to accept defeat and they dont want to see the nation progress they should be thinking and considering their negative impact on the country. They are undermining the peace of the nation. Their damages put the country on stand still and it should be a national concern.ation.

  8. Relative to what happened between the Sierra Leone police and the marauding APC thugs at the APC headquarters, I think the only commission of inquiry that should be established is one that should look into the reasons why the police are so poorly paid despite their professionalism and gallantry.

    The police were very professional and gallant at the APC office. In many other countries, deadly force could have been used. A band of thugs cannot erect barricades on a major street, burn tires and throw stones at the police and expect to get away with it.

    The ball is squarely in the court of the APC. They can desist from lawlessness and violence and not have their members bloodied up again by the police. This is a choice that is entirely theirs. Otherwise, they risk being manhandled by the police and locked up any time they attempt to disturb the peace in Sierra Leone.

    The APC strategy that lawlessness will scare investors away from Sierra Leone is foolhardy. Investors would only be scared away when the government refuses to crack down on lawlessness. So watch out Mr. APC.

    It must also be noted that a government that was democratically elected can only leave office through the democratic process. No amount of intimidation or the threat of violence will force the government to abdicate its primary responsibility to the people – protecting life and property.

    As far as the Sierra Leone Renaissance Movement is concerned, the rules of the game cannot be changed when the game is already in process. Members of this movement should know that there are precedents for nullifying the vote and declaring the candidate that finished second in the polls winner if it is determined that the elections were rigged or that the winner broke the law when contesting the elections.

    The APC lawmakers that were thrown out of parliament by the High Court broke the law. Accordingly, Government must ensure that the disgraced lawmakers refunded every penny of the salaries that they received while illegally serving in parliament.

    • FASCINATING HINT. A debate must be triggered. Is it POLICE PROFESSIONALISM when police officers fire teargas into the APC HEADQUARTERS to SUFFOCATE people? Is it POLICE PROFESSIONALISM when police entered the APC HEADQUARTERS to LOOT as alleged?

      Is it POLICE PROFESSIONALISM when police shot at women/men going about their daily business peacefully with RUBBER BULLETS? Is it POLICE PROFESSIONALISM when police entered the APC HEADQUARTERS and dispersed displaced people? Should the POLICE be humane? DISCUSS/ARGUE.

      I hear some say, all the above mentioned questions are POLICE PROFESSIONALISM and the POLICE must be REWARDED. Who the cap fits, let him/her wear it. NA IM DAT OH. AH READY.

  9. From Majority in Parliament to Minority. A sad story, indeed. This headline says a lot about the sorry state of political affairs in Sierra Leone today. It was 2012, immediately after the parliamentary and presidential elections that a bunch of the then opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party, whose victorious members were petitioned in the courts, with the benefit of a sinister forethought as well as the exclusive intention of annulling those elections.

    Subsequently, with the expressed complicit of the then governing APC party of Ambassador Yansanneh and ex officio president Bai Koroma, and with the covert complicity of the judiciary, which has a long history of subtle political activism and devoid of any semblance or any iota of judicial independence, indeed annulled those elections.

    It was a fateful decision indeed that had no basis in fact, constitution or law. (Recall the sacking of the legitimately elected vice president, who was elected TOGETHER as a team with the president). For crying out loud, the decision by the Sierra Leone judiciary to remove the (then sitting vice president), was voided by the ECOWAS court which has jurisdiction over it’s member states and to which Sierra Leone is a signatory.

    The ECOWAS court decisions are legally binding or mandatory, but the then attorney general of Sierra Leone wasted no time in jettisoning it with little fanfare or deliberation. It must be noted that “the decisions of the ECOWAS court are final and binding under the 1991 protocol. Member states and ECOWAS institutions must take all measures necessary to ensure execution of the court’s decisions”.

    But heavens knows if Sierra Leone ever implimented and ensured this decision against Mr. Yansanneh, former president Koroma and the government as a whole. Reinstatement would have been the right thing to in a country that practices democracy and follow the rule of law as espoused under the legitimate state institutions.

    Imagine this same attorney general was an aspiring flag bearer of the APC presidential candidature. Indeed, scant or absolutely no regard for constitutional nomenclature was observed. These ill-fated event (the sacking of SLPP members of parliament in 2012, and the sacking of a legitimate vice president of the country, have had the most debilitating effects on the country ever since.

    Several other incidents have contributed to the current state of affairs in Sierra Leone. These are the beginning of the current dismal and regretful tug of war going on between the present government and some now axed APC members of parliament and the APC party as a whole. Now you see, Bintumani 3 was necessary

  10. Let me first of all thank the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph for providing us with the front page picture and the video. No human being can say that the police acted professionally. I am someone who has all along praised the present IG for his skills in managing policing problems between political parties and political rioting.

    But what happened yesterday has placed doubts on his work I reckon. I hope people will not call for his resignation. Also President Bio and his government are now in a very tough position. The judiciary’s credibility is also at stake. So, President Bio and his government must establish a commission of inquiry as soon as possible. Delaying or failing to do so will be a problem for his leadership in my view. Just look at people with bloody faces. SAD. There is no justification for such police brutality.

    To be honest, this police operation at the APC headquarters was not called for. But, why did the police go there and behave heavy handedly and with brutality? The police should always be neutral when it comes to matters concerning political rioting. Also, if what is being said about the unfairness of the ruling is true, then those JUDGES and the JUDICIARY will be in a very big trouble. HEADS just have to roll.

    Mishandling people by unprofessional policing is unacceptable and I think that those police officers responsible should be dealt with and compensation paid to all those terrorised during that miscalculated police operation. Again, I thank the editor for this EMOTIONAL PICTURE AND VIDEO. We have started getting to the bottom of what happened. Thanks EDITOR AND GOD BLESS YOU.

    • Mr Matturi seems to blame police for the malfeasance of the APC party at their party headquarters. They brought it upon themselves. Sierra Leone has laws to protect its citizens from unlawful actions of those who decide to take laws into their own hands.

      The police has the right to prevent hooligans from gaining the uperhand in destabilizing the populace. APC has decided they do not want peace and has again resorted to violent means to justify their rhetoric. Some of these people do not belong in a civilized society. Blame the APC and its sympathizers for making Sierra Leone what it is today.

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