Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 October 2022:
It was 9am yesterday Monday in Freetown, from where the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph received this poignant message from one of his reporters: “This morning I was taking my sister to Connaught hospital. The area was blocked by armed military personnel. I parked my vehicle, and the military personnel allowed us to walk to our appointment.
“I then saw parked outside the mortuary – ambulances and military trucks. I learnt that they were there to remove and transport bodies for burial. People are not allowed to walk through the street. Hospital staff were required to show their IDs before they were allowed to pass. This is sad and pathetic. Are we now living in an authoritarian police state.”
That was the first sign yesterday, of the government’s poorly conceived and appalling decision to conduct mass burial of the remains of those killed during street demonstrations and immediately after the 10th of August, in what the Sierra Leone Telegraph has been informed, was a state-orchestrated execution of opposition protesters.
This comes in the wake of a public notice believed to have been published by the government on the night of Sunday October 16, 2022, justifying why it has taken the decision to carry out mass burial of the remains of protesters.
This is what the notice said: “The public will recall that on August 10th this year, a violent insurrection took place in parts of Eastern Freetown, Makeni and Kamakwei in the North, during which six serving police officers and 27 civilians lost their lives.
“Immediately following the state burial of the six police officers who were brutally murdered by insurrectionists, government has been engaging with family members of civilians who lost their lives during and in the aftermath of the insurrection. In the process, many unidentified corpses have been identified by their relatives and post-mortem examinations conducted in their presence, but some remain unverified.
“After several meetings with family members, an agreement has been reached for a state-led burial on 17th October 2022 at Bolima, Waterloo, in full collaboration with family members and plans are at an advanced stage for a dignified burial of all the deceased.
“Following specific instructions from His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio that all corpses be given a dignified burial, each corpse will be buried in separate graves following a dignified ceremony.
“Furthermore, as tradition demands and as a show of compassion, government has given each family 20,000 New Leones (20,000,000 Old Leones) to help bereaved families with funeral rites.
“While condoling with the bereaved families, we wish to reaffirm our commitment to a peaceful, stable, and tranquil Sierra Leone where every Sierra Leonean could aspire to their full potentials.”
BBC reporter – Umaru Fofana confirmed the worst fears of millions of Sierra Leoneans across the country and abroad in his twitter feed: “Sierra Leone will today bury 27 civilians killed during the 10 August protests. Their families have been told the bodies will not be given to them, rather the state will lay them to rest. Each family will get Le 20 million (roughly $1,250), an offer rejected by relatives of Hassan Dumbuya aka Evangelist Samson. The cemetery hasn’t been disclosed with the families told only to converge at the central mortuary at 1pm. It comes nearly 8 weeks since 6 policemen killed in the same protests were laid to rest. Their families received Le 100 million each.”
Photo: Remains of August 10 Riots – brought out of the central mortuary for burial by the state.
People’s Power In Politics, an opposition pressure group accused by the government of being behind the planning of the August 10 demonstrations, said on Twitter yesterday: “The government of Sierra Leone killed innocent civilians during and after the August 10th protest and now decided to bury the victims in unmarked graves and used the military to deprive family members of paying last respects to their deceased.”
The govt of 🇸🇱 killed innocent civilians during and after the August 10th protest and now decided to bury the victims in unmarked graves and used the military to deprive family members of paying last respects to their deceased. @BBCAfrica @cnni @AJEnglish @dwnews @ICC pic.twitter.com/JY1qBEImQ3
— People's Power In Politics (@PeoplesPowerIn1) October 17, 2022
Sierra Leone’s former Attorney General Joseph Kamara, said on his twitter feed yesterday:
Lansana Dumbuya Said: “We’ve witnessed situations where bodies were exhumed from graves by a court order and befitting and dignified burials consequently effectuated. We will definitely seek justice for Evangelist Samson.”
The Executive Director of League of Democracy Advocates (LoDA), published the following statement: “League of Democracy Advocates (LoDA) has been informed by the bereaved families about the Government to unlawfully and clandestinely bury the remains of their loved ones. LoDA raises concerns with analyses of such plans by the Government.
“Conducting a mass burial is not only described as dumping dead bodies in one grave or separate graves, it is simply by conducting a burial of many dead bodies in one day, one cemetery and with one ceremony for all.
“There are Due Processes and Rule of Law for a state to bury dead person (s) without handing over the body to the bereaved family. The state can only take such action, in any of the Following:
1. An order from court
2. The body is criminalized( convict)
3. The body is infectious
4. The body cannot be identified by an owner
“If any of the above mentioned doesn’t exist for such action to be taken by the state in conducting a burial without the handing over of such remains to the family, that action is deemed to be unlawful and a gross human rights violation.
“Drawing the distinction amongst the many, the action to bury those civilians who lost their lives in the Agust 10th protest without handing over the dead bodies to their families is unlawful and gross disrespect to the Rule of Law.
“Those bodies where practically identified by owners and none of them falls amongst the many reasons for state funeral. In the case of Hassan Dumbuya (Evangelist Samsom ), his remains doesn’t fall amongst the many reasons for state burial neither on AUGUST 10th insurrections, so any attempt to include his remains without handing over to the family for the family to carry out a dignified burial will be unlawful and will be challenged in the court of law.
“We urge the government to obey international human rights treaties that Sierra Leone signed to and to also follow the due process of the law, Rule of Law and best practices of Democracy.
“LoDA condemns all attempts by the government to bury the remains of those who are not amongst the legal and procedural reasons for state’s burial. We hope the government will revisit its plans to do such unlawful plans of human rights violation.”
That statement and all other concerns raised, and advice given to the government before its mass burial yesterday, fell into the deaf ears of a President who has once again shown his unrestrained, penchant for bloodletting and human rights abuse as an ex-soldier.
Where is Sierra Leone heading? Where are the opposition liberal democrat leaders – such as Dr Kandeh Yumkella and the likes, who are expected to stand up and speak out in the face of such grotesque human rights abuses in Sierra Leone?