Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 July 2020:
Despite all efforts by the government and Chief Justice to reform Sierra Leone’s court system to reduce the time it takes for justice to be delivered, it seems old bad habits are taking much longer to die, as thousands of people up and down the country – including opposition politician – Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, wait hopelessly because State prosecutors fail to turn up in court.
The frustrating, and unjust daily grind of turning up for a hearing, only to be told that the court sitting has been adjourned because a judge, magistrate or State prosecutors did not turn up, caught up once again with Dr Blyden yesterday, when she arrived at the court buildings in Freetown to attend both her Magistrate and High Court trials.
Dr Blyden is faced with the rather bizarre, and what many would refer to as ‘punitive justice’, where she has been charged for the same offence of insulting the president and other charges in both the magistrate and High Courts of Sierra Leone respectively.
The use of administrative and judicial high-handedness to punish those with whom the government disagrees, by delaying, frustrating, and exerting psychological pressure on them is nothing new. It is an old trick used by successive governments for political aims.
Dr Blyden has been charged with ten counts of seditious libel, cyber-crimes, perverting the cause of justice, etc., most of which the government is finding very difficult to provide evidence to safely satisfy conviction. Hence, Blyden is now subjected to a series of court adjournments, after spending over 50 days in prison without charge, following her arrest three months ago.
But Dr. Blyden is taking it all in her strides. A true sense of character. As a politician gunning for the presidency, some would say that she is being prepared by fate for the highest office in the land which in Africa, comes with a lot of personal sacrifices and pain, from which many lessons of leadership and good governance are learnt.
Writing to her supporters and fans on social media yesterday, she was very philosophical about it all. She said: “Good evening from my veranda overlooking the Atlantic Ocean estuary at Cockle Bay. I am just returning from hospital where I went for my follow-up treatment in the capable hands of our darling healthcare workers who always spoil and pamper me when they see me. Thanks colleagues. The way you pampered me today just made my day – as always.
“Meanwhile, the court case this morning at the High Court did not hold. Similarly, the one at the Magistrate Court also did not hold this afternoon. In both courts, no lawyer appeared for the State. So both matters have been adjourned.
“Today also, for the first time since I was charged to court, there was no sign of the over 200 well-armed, anti-riot police who used to be deployed all over the entire Magistrate Court and around all streets in the vicinity whenever I was going to appear.
“It was a pleasant surprise to enter the magistrate courts area today and not see any sign of armed men with guns deployed all over as if……..I believe it shall be well. Keep smiling everyone – smile, even from behind your masks. God bless Sierra Leone.”
With a new Attorney General now in office in Sierra leone, many in the country are hoping that the government will wipe the slate clean, turn to a new beginning and discharge all opposition politicians, that are standing trial for various alleged offences, including Dr Blyden.
President Bio needs to end political tension in the country, and return to active and meaningful engagement through dialogue with opposition politicians and their parties, especially as the current uncertainty unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic becomes even more pronounced.