Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 June 2019:
Political dialogue is in short supply in Sierra Leone right now, following last Friday’s violence at the country’s main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party offices, where police used lethal force to stop the dangerous escalation of violence.
Several APC supporters and their party leaders were arrested, and some are still in detention.
Although an uneasy calm has returned to Freetown, there are fears violence may once again erupt as the APC is now planning to hold another meeting next week at its offices in Freetown, to discuss possible protest against the continuing detention of their supporters without charge.
Many of those still locked up behind bars are in desperate need of medical attention, after sustaining injuries during confrontation with the police.
Relationship and communications between the ruling SLPP and the opposition APC have seriously broken down, with the APC threatening to continue its policy of ‘passive resistance’ until their political, constitutional and legal concerns are addressed by the government.
Yesterday, the parliamentary leader and 2018 presidential candidate for the National Grand Coalition (NGC) party – Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, was out on the streets putting his United Nations experience into use, helping to establish a sustainable peace building framework through dialogue between the government, the police and the opposition APC.
Dr. Kandeh Yumkella was joined by the opposition Unity Party Leader (UP) – Madam Femi Claudius-Cole, on a visit to the APC office yesterday, where they met the APC Secretary-General – Dr. Osman Yansaneh.
The trio discussed last Friday’s violence and the need to establish dialogue between the government and the APC so as to peacefully resolve their differences.
Dr Yansaneh (Photo) thanked both Yumkella and Claudius -Cole for their peace initiative, which he warmly welcomed, and said he is ready and willing to re-establish dialogue with president Julius Maada Bio to discuss key concerns of the APC and peacefully seek redress.
The two ‘peace emissaries’ also visited the police headquarters – Central Investigations Department, to see the conditions in which about ninety APC supporters are being held and their medical requirements.
They spoke with senior police officers as well as those arrested, and were successful in gaining the immediate release of a senior APC official – Mr Bai Mahmoud. (Photo Below – Bai Mahmoud is on the right).
Speaking about conditions at the CID where the detainees are being held, Dr Yumkella said: ”Well, it was reminiscent of the time my younger brother and seven friends were caged up in the same cell at the CID after being denied bail for a pepper spray.
“However, seeing so many female supporters of the APC squatting on the floor, some with injuries, is abhorrent and inhumane. In fact, it is surreal and poignant just as it was then for my brother and his friends. We can only ask the Almighty God to grant us the strength and courage to pursue peace and put our country, Salon Fos. We must all work towards a just and cohesive society.”
Yesterday, the NGC party issued a statement about Friday’s violence, police heavy-handedness, the need for justice, and serious peacebuilding efforts towards national cohesion. This is what the statement says:
The National Grand Coalition Party (NGC) laments the events that took place on Friday 31 May 2019, which it sees as symptomatic of a broken political system in urgent need of repair.
First, we condemn the judicial delays that have resulted in 10 rulings on elections petitions pertaining to the March 2018 vote for members of parliament. Why have we had to wait 14 months for these rulings?
And why are some matters still outstanding? We remind the judiciary that justice delayed is justice denied. Such delayed justice has ethical and practical considerations, especially in the context of our lawmakers in Parliament, which is why it is always preferable to resolve these matters quickly.
Second, we condemn the selective justice apparently at play in Sierra Leone today. Why is it that petitions predominantly of concern to members of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) have been resolved while matters of concern to other political parties, in this case the All People’s Congress (APC), have not even been listed for hearing?
Why is it that petition cases brought by members of the NGC, and similar to those upheld on Friday 31 May, were dismissed by the judge without lawyers acting for NGC being allowed to present their cases. We recall with horror the violence visited upon our supporters in Tonko Limba, Kambia, Mile 91 and parts of the Western Area, to give just a few examples.
Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. We recall that rampant injustice was one of the main factors identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as a cause of the civil war this country was subjected to not so long ago.
Third, we condemn the excessive use of force by the Sierra Leone Police, including firing teargas canisters directly into the APC headquarters in Brookfields, as reported by Umaru Fofana on the BBC Focus on Africa and relayed live by AYV Television.
State security forces have a duty to maintain internal security and law and order, but they must do so humanely, respecting the human rights of the public at large.
In 2018 Amnesty International produced a report documenting 10 years of use of excessive force by police to disperse spontaneous protests, with at least nine protesters killed and over 80 injured.
Yesterday’s display of force was a frightening continuation of this practice, which in fact dates back to the pre-independence era under colonial rule. SLP force directed at APC HQ yesterday was reminiscent of similar excessive police force used to quell SLPP supporters at their party HQ in 2007, 2008, and 2009.
We again condemn this apparent tit for tat, “do me, ar do you” pattern of reprisals. An eye for an eye will leave us all blind.
Now is the time to strengthen our state institutions and separate them from partisan political interests and break this vicious cycle of repression and violence.
Fourth, we repeat our call for the resignation or removal of the Chief Electoral Commissioner, N’fa Alie Conteh, or the conduct of a Judicial enquiry into the Tonko Limba bye elections. Had NEC done its job properly during the elections in 2018 and vetted contestants properly and assessed the levels of violence in the run-up to and during polling, these petitioners would not have had recourse to use the courts. Instead, over a year after elections, decisions by two judges have altered the fundamental makeup of Parliament and precipitated a full-blown crisis.
We must remember that Sierra Leone remains a fragile state: we cannot afford to take our peace and national cohesion for granted.
Indeed, the events of Friday 31 May came less than a week after the end of the three-day
Bintumani III National Dialogue Forum on Democratic Consolidation for Peace and National Cohesion (B3).
During B3, we heard delegates call for a separation between the state, the government, and the ruling party. Yet yesterday afternoon, live on AYV TV, we saw the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Lahai Lawrence Leema, who doubles as SLPP Public Relations Officer, speaking from SLPP HQ at the height of tensions chanting the ruling party’s slogan.
Was he on official ministerial duties at the time? Are we not entitled to expect our ministers, paid through taxpayers and donor funds, to dedicate themselves exclusively to their official ministerial duties on? Should the government “preach peace” but fan the flames of instability and discontent?
The NGC calls upon all actors to put Sierra Leone first. Emotions may run high, but this is a time for cool, calm hearts and heads to prevail. We call on leaders of all political parties to refrain from inflaming their supporters with heated rhetoric.
We call upon all citizens to remain law-abiding and avoid confrontation with rival supporters or the authorities. We call upon the police to be a force for good and avoid excessive use of force.
In the spirit of the communique issued at the end of Bintumani III, we as a party believe the way forward is dialogue between the leadership of APC and SLPP to resolve their differences and consolidate peace and national cohesion in Sierra Leone.
We call upon our moral guarantors to use their own good offices and channels of communication to assist in this quest.
As a party, we pledge to do our own part. We call upon all our supporters at home and abroad to remain vigilant but calm.
Furthermore, we shall actively seek ways to mediate between our brothers and sisters in our two larger parties to come together to find common ground in the interests of our beloved Sierra Leone. (End of statement).
It is not clear when those talks between the APC leadership and president Julius Maada Bio will start, and whether the former president and chairman of the APC – Ernest Bai Koroma, will lead his party into those talks.
What is certain though, is that the police are determined to use whatever means in their power to maintain law and order, despite accusations of serious human rights violations.