Human rights group calls for the government of Sierra Leone to refrain from all forms of political intimidation

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 June 2017

The arrest of opposition politician – Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray has brought renewed sense of hopelessness and despair in democracy in Sierra Leone. The ruling APC has been criticised for its irrational use of police powers since it took office in 2007, and does not seem to have any intention of ending its impunity.

With general and presidential elections just nine months away, there are fears the government may be planning a major crackdown on opposition politicians and freedom of speech, as calls for the release of Mr Mansaray grow.

Civil rights group – The Campaign for Human and Development International (CHRDI) whose chief executive was recently added to the ruling APC’s list of political scalps, when he was arrested and detained for asking members of the country’s parliament to give account for funds meant to support and promote community development in their respective constituencies, has today expressed concern at the continuing intimidation and harassment of opposition politicians.

This is what it said in a statement:

“In Sierra Leone today, independent civil society and opposition party members are under siege and peaceful dissent can be dangerous. We are concerned about a pattern of harassment and attacks against members of political opposition parties in Sierra Leone.

“As Sierra Leone prepares for Presidential, Parliamentary and local elections in March 2018, the Campaign for Human and Development International-CHRDI reiterates its call on the government of Sierra Leone to foster an environment in which dissent is tolerated and those who express dissenting views are protected, in keeping with the rights enshrined in the Nation’s own constitution.

“We urge the Government to condemn publicly any attack or threat of violence against members of the political opposition or civil society activists and to ensure that no further harm comes to them.

“We further remind the Government of Sierra Leone of its international obligations and commitment to protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all – regardless of political affiliation or personal views.

“We are conscious that Sierra Leone is experiencing increased political tensions in the lead up to the local and national elections in 2018 respectively.

“Yet, we must emphasize that while political turmoil often puts pressure on human rights, continued free and open debate among citizens and civil society is the core means by which democratic societies are able to navigate such tensions peacefully.

“The arrest of opposition leaders or their supporters, as well as Human Rights defenders, should be made a thing of the past.

“Politicians who have the tendency to terrorise or disrespect human rights, rule of law and democracy should bear in mind that their deliberate decisions not to support the values of democratic tenets which Sierra Leone subscribes to would drag this country backwards.

“The authorities should not continue to justify their abusive human rights activities by helping the Police use the Public Order Act, a controversial law that imposes wide-ranging restrictions on public meetings, including the requirement that organisers notify the police in advance.

“Under international law, the right to freedom of assembly states that authorities should not use excessive force to break up peaceful assemblies even if they consider them to be unlawful.

“The authorities must take action to rein in the Police in the run up to the elections and ensure that their actions conform to both national and international standards.

“The current actions of the Government in Sierra Leone can’t be seen in isolation and needs to be seen as part of the larger conspiracy to divert attention and seek political dividends in the forthcoming elections and criminalise political dissenters or those who question the government in the country today.

“It is high time the government of Sierra Leone take measures to instil confidence in the rule of law and not engage in political vendetta for narrow political gains.”

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