Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 February 2017
Since coming to power in 2007 several journalists and political opponents have been arrested and detained behind bars by the Koroma government of Sierra Leone.
The popular radio programme host – Dr. David Tam M’Bayoh, newspaper journalist – Jonathan Leigh, and opposition presidential aspirant – Alie Kabba, have all been subjected to arrests and detention by the ruling APC.
The APC government’s latest victim is the chief executive of the country’s civil rights campaign group – Mr. Abdul Fatoma of The Campaign for Human Rights and Development (CHRDI).
He was arrested in January and detained, after the country’s ruling APC-party-dominated parliament ordered his arrest.
According to the parliamentarians, Abdul Fatoma was guilty of inciting the people against parliament, after he persistently called for parliamentarians to account for millions of dollars of international aid they had received for the development of their respective communities during the Ebola crisis.
While most Sierra Leoneans would say that Abdul Fatoma was simply doing his job by holding parliamentarians accountable, ruling APC party politicians are very ratty at any suggestion of corruption at the corridors of parliament.
Abdul Fatoma was not only detained and later released without change, but is today unable to travel out of Sierra Leone. His passport and all other travel documents have been confiscated by the police.
This is Koroma’s legacy of injustice and the ruling APC party’s historical track record of human rights abuse that makes it very difficult to contemplate another term in office for Koroma’s APC.
Speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph last week, Abdul Fatoma said this:
“Since the enactment of the 1991 Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone and each of its amendments and other international laws, there have been numerous acts by government officials, executive orders, court rulings and decisions and actions taken while on duty and under the colour of law, which have been arguably unconstitutional, and in many cases – in violation of the fundamental civil rights of persons and of constitutional laws.
“Our organisation -CHRDI, will try to identify some of the worst of such violations of the Constitution, and discuss how compliance with the Constitution can be restored.
“It is a fundamental principle that all acts of public officials not derived from the delegated powers of the constitution are null and void from inception, not just from the point at which a court may find them unconstitutional.
“Forbidding me not to travel out of the country and ordering my unlawful arrest and detention is one of such unlawful acts of abuse of power and violation of the constitution by state actors in Sierra Leone.
“Parliament is the supreme law making body in any state and for a Parliament to act in violation of laws it passes whilst holding others to account under such laws is simply untenable. Is Parliament above the laws it passes?”
The latest report of Amnesty International is equally as scathing of the Koroma government’s human rights record. This is what the reports says:
Sierra Leone agreed to ratify several international human rights treaties, but did not accept a number of recommendations made during the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Unwarranted restrictions on the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association continued to be imposed.
Violence against women and girls was widespread and pregnant girls were excluded from school, including exams. Disputes over land use caused growing tensions.
After undergoing its second UPR in April, Sierra Leone accepted 177 of 208 recommendations. These included ratifying international human rights treaties, such as Optional Protocols to the ICCPR, the ICESCR, the Convention against Torture and CEDAW.
In September, Sierra Leone was reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which made various recommendations regarding addressing sexual exploitation and FGM.
FREEDOMS OF EXPRESSION, ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION
Unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association continued to be imposed. On 27 April, Independence Day, 29 people were arrested and detained for over a week following a parade organized by the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Police said the parade was unauthorized and used tear gas to stop it. Several people were injured, including the women’s leader Lulu Sheriff.
In August, six of the 29 were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, and one to nine months’ imprisonment, on charges including unlawful procession and riotous conduct. They appealed against their conviction.
The trial of the others continued. The trial of 15 members of the SLPP and a senior officer from the Human Rights Commission arrested in the town of Kenema on Independence Day in 2015 following a protest had not concluded by the end of 2016.
In July, police refused permission for women’s groups to assemble outside a conference centre in the capital, Freetown, during the Constitutional Review process to request greater protection of gender rights in the draft Constitution.
On 24 July, journalist Sam Lahai was detained for two days by police after raising questions on social media about the role of the Deputy Internal Affairs Minister.
He was released on police bail after intervention by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, which had been calling for reform of restrictive criminal libel laws for many years.
In August, two people were shot dead and several injured by police in Kabala during a protest against the loss of a planned youth training centre. A curfew was imposed after several buildings were burned down.
Seventeen people were sent to trial for offences such as arson and riotous conduct. The recently formed Independent Police Complaints Board launched an investigation into allegations that police used excessive force.
Its recommendations to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Inspector General of Police were not made public. NGO Policy Regulations were proposed containing provisions which human rights defenders said would restrict their activities.
The incidence of violence against women and girls remained high. Specialist organizations providing support to women and girls risked closure due to funding constraints.
In March, President Koroma refused to sign a bill legalizing abortion in certain situations, despite the fact that it had been adopted by Parliament twice.3 Sierra Leone had a very high rate of FGM. During the Ebola crisis, FGM was banned and this ban was not officially lifted during 2016.
However, FGM of young girls and women remained common. In September, a woman in her late 20s was subjected to FGM and locked in a house for four days in Kenema. She was rescued by the police and went into hiding.
The woman accused of cutting her was detained by police but released after several cutters mounted a protest outside the police station.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Pregnant girls were banned from attending mainstream school and sitting exams, in violation of their rights to education and non-discrimination. Pregnant girls could only participate in a part-time “temporary alternative education scheme” offering a reduced curriculum.
This temporary scheme ended in August but was expected to continue under a new scheme. Many girls who had given birth were unable to pay school fees to return to school.
In September, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Sierra Leone to immediately lift the discriminatory ban on pregnant girls attending mainstream schools and sitting exams, and ensure that they and adolescent mothers are supported to continue their education in mainstream schools.
There were growing tensions over land related issues. In February, six people were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment or fines for destroying palm oil trees during protests in the Pujehun District in 2013 against a palm oil project operated by Socfin.
Landowners claimed that they had not given consent to the acquisition of their land. In February, the High Court ordered a Chinese company, Orient Agriculture Limited, to restore 1,486 acres of land to about 70 families in Nimiyama Chiefdom, Kono District.
The company had signed a deal in 2013 with the Paramount Chief and local leaders to purchase land cheaply without the knowledge of the landowners.
Does the ruling APC deserve a third term in office, or is it time for regime change through the ballot box?
A progressive government must first of all uphold respect for the rule of law and freedom of expression, and refrain from abuse of power. The APC government persecution of the leader of the civil society organization CHRDI, Mr. Abdul Fatoma for questioning improper attitudes of the people’s representatives in parliament on their service delivery, is a clear abuse of power. This shows the government’s unwillingness to curb corruption in the management of public monies by politicians.
The entire media should get involved into this matter and give it echo across the country. Now is the propitious moment to challenge corruption head on with courage, a practice deeply rooted in politicians and top government officials in this country.
Civil society must clearly express our energetic rejection of widespread corruption in the political spectrum of this country starting with this government and the next ones to come.
Progress, development and welfare of the citizens can only be achieved in this country when the people become sensitive to the scourge of corruption, abuse of power and react accordingly to it.
The power of the people rests on the polls where voters can punish politicians perceived as being corrupt. We as a people need to outline the kind of country we want, irrespective of political affiliation or tribal origin. The country must move forward with accountability, trust and good governance.
Governments in this country are generally corrupt, the lack of social justice and continual bullying to frighten outspoken citizens in defense of the populace. Institutional corruption underpins the governance style of our governments. This must stop once and for all.