CHRDI: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 February 2022:
Earlier this week, the Sierra Leone Police “invited for questioning” Mr Sidie Yahya Tunis, APC’s acting publicity secretary and deputy spokesman, after an interview which he granted to Radio Democracy 98.1 “Good Morning Sierra Leone” program on February 7, 2022. The SLP deemed his statements on the radio program tantamount to “incitement”.
Mr Tunis was charged and released on Le 200 million bail and asked to report again to the CID on Monday, 14th February 2022.
Recently this is the second prominent opposition party leader that has been detained and questioned because of statements made on Radio Democracy.
As we approach the 2023 national elections, CHRDI notices with concern that the number of arrests of prominent opposition members, including prominent women, is on the rise. Here are just a few examples of these arrests:
1. In December 2021, Sierra Leone Police arrested the Leader of the Unity Party, Femi Claudius-Cole and about 20 other women who went to the CID to peacefully protest the arrest of another prominent female opposition leader, Diana Finda Konomanyi.
2. Also in December 2021, the Sierra Leone Police arrested female opposition leader, Diana Finda Konomanyi, who was questioned in connection with a video she posted on social media asking her constituents to refuse participation in the mid-term census.
3. On December 7, 2021, the Chairman of the opposition National Grand Coalition party, Dr Dennis Bright, was also invited by the Sierra Leone Police to be questioned in connection with his interview on Radio Democracy about the government’s mid-term population census. Dr Bright was released after the questioning.
4. On May 1st 2020, Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, a senior female politician to the main opposition APC party was arrested, and on May 22nd authorities charged Blyden with sedition, defamation, and “perversion of justice” over her social media posts. She was discharged after the repeal of Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965.
CHRDI has observed with grave concern an increase in the arrest and prosecution of other citizens who speak up against the government or criticize the government and the leaders at State House.
CHRDI is deeply concerned about this pattern of arrests of opposition leaders in Sierra Leone, as well as arrests of civilian people who criticize the government.
These arrests have a chilling effect on the people of Sierra Leone regarding their space to assemble freely and to freedom of expression. This pattern represents a blatant attempt to intimidate politicians and political activists and to silence the regular people who wish to express disapproval to the way the government of the day carries out its duties, promises and obligations.
At the same time, CHRDI acknowledges that freedom of speech comes with responsibilities as well, and as we approach the 2023 elections, we urge ALL political leaders and activists to criticize based on facts, evidence, and data and to remember that an irresponsible speech may have far reaching effects.
We urge all political party members/supporters to respect the laws of the land, and refrain from making irresponsible statements.
At the same time, the leadership of the Sierra Leone Police must train their staff to understand that criticizing the government does not constitute “incitement” and the fundamental role of the Police is to protect the people.
The main role of the Sierra Leone Police according to THE POLICE ACT 1964, ACT NO 7 OF 1964 Sec 4 states that; ‘ the general duties of the Police Force, which include detection of crime, apprehension of offenders, preservation of law and order, protection of property and enforcement of all laws and regulations’ for which the Police Force is charged, and not to assure the people of insecurity
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – ICCPR which Sierra Leone also ratified, states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
Without freedom of expression and information, political parties’ right to association and their right to take part in public affairs amount to little or nothing. It is freedom of expression that ensures the right of political parties and their members to present their political views, values, and to take part in the political debate, etc.
The ICCPR states that:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others. (b) For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.
The Government of Sierra Leone is obliged to ensure these rights. The African Court on Human and People’s Rights also states that:
1. States shall review all criminal restrictions on content to ensure that they serve a legitimate interest in a democratic society.
2. Freedom of expression should not be restricted on public order or national security grounds unless there is a real risk of harm to a legitimate interest and there is a close causal link between the risk of harm and the expression.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mandates that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
The Sierra Leone Government is obligated under these international laws and conventions to:
1) Respect the freedom of expression of all political parties, their members, and activists
2) To take positive actions to prevent non-state actors from interfering with the exercise of freedom of expression by political parties and their members, and to put in place positive measures to ensure that its own actions contribute to the free flow of information and ideas in society, e.g. through a legal framework to provide for access to information held by public bodies.
CHRDI has noted President Bio’s public statements of his country’s respect for human rights, including freedom of speech. We urge the actions of the Sierra Leone Police not to be in contradiction with President Bio’s national and international statements, and engagements which he made for the protection of the fundamental right to freedom of speech.