Pipul Pikin Network: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 02 May 2020:
Prominent Sierra Leone activist, journalist and philanthropist, Dr Sylvia Blyden was arrested on Friday, 1 May 2020, at 1:15pm (SL time) and taken in to custody, after being holed up in her home for several hours since morning under armed security barricade.
We note an alarming pattern of the Police Force deploying reckless and indiscriminate tactics, including while arresting Dr Blyden at her home, as well as exclusive evidence of torture and other ill-treatment.
The Police forcefully entered the building with a team of engineers to break into the residence of Dr Blyden’s where she was holed-up. While at the CID, Dr Blyden’s phones and laptop were forcefully taken-away from her.
We note that no protective measures from COVID-19 were taken during the interrogations and statement taking that lasted for at least several hours. The driver who had gone to deliver stuff to Dr Blyden was also unlawfully detained last night.
We note that Dr Blyden has been held in tight conferment, sleeping on the bare floor, without food or medication in a cold and filthy cell without proper clothing.
CHARGES and BAIL
Although no formal charges have been served on Dr Blyden, we, however note that Dr Blyden was arrested for interrogation by the police, on sham allegations stemming from the exercise of her right to freedom of speech and human rights activism since 2018.
Police said they were investigating messages of incitement sent in a WhatsApp group by Dr Blyden. None of these allegations are legitimate offences under international law since they criminalise free speech.
Dr Blyden has been detained solely for expressing her views online and offline and/or calling for good governance and better measures to tackle Covid-19.
The Police have deliberately delayed taking the full statement from Dr Blyden with a view to detain her for a longer period than allowed by law. Dr Blyden was refused bail, without legal justification.
The presumption of release pending trial is based on the presumption of innocence, which is enshrined in international law and recognised in the Sierra Leone constitution.
We call on the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), the Sierra Leone Bar Association, the Human Rights Commission and other national and international human rights bodies to take action to ensure the human right of Dr Blyden is fully respected ad protected.
We appreciate that a team of lawyers have agreed to provide legal assistance to Dr Blyden and are supporting her. However, we note that some lawyers and family members were refused access to meet Dr Blyden today.
This is clearly a violation of her human rights. The Pipul Pikin Network has therefore consulted and retained the legal services of a number of lawyers including the veteran international human rights lawyer Melron Nicol-Wilson Esq, former defence Counsel and Case Manager at the United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and former Ombudsman of the Republic of Sierra Leone to provide legal assistance to Dr Blyden. Melron has a long standing reputation as a human rights defender for many years, and with a good track record of representing clients regardless of political, tribal or economic status.
It is unfortunate that at the time when the international community is focused on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sierra Leone authorities are investing time in accelerating arrest and dentition of activists and journalists.
By arresting and imprisoning Dr Blyden, the authorities are not only punishing Dr Blyden for her free speech, but also endangering her health given the risks of a COVID 19 in prison.
We condemn any unlawful tactics by state authorities who may want to use the State of Emergency laws and the COVID 19 lockdown in Freetown to continue to detain Dr Blyden in custody without charge or the right to bail.
We fear that Dr Blyden may spend additional days in prison due to the current State of Emergency in the country.
We continue to call on President Maada Bio to take full responsibility for the wellbeing and safety of Dr Blyden.
We continue to monitor the situation, engage and share credible updates/reports with our partners and human rights bodies in Sierra Leone and in the international community including the Africa Union, Ecowas, Commonwealth, European Union and United Nations system.
We will keep you all posted as things evolve.