Lawyers in Sierra Leone call for the release of Dr Sylvia Blyden

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 May 2020:

After spending weeks in police custody without charge – contrary to the constitution of Sierra Leone and global human rights codes of conduct, there is growing concern for the health and wellbeing of Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.

She was arrested last month by police in Sierra Leone, following allegations of inciting crimes against the State, which the police are still struggling to find evidence to bring charges.

Yesterday, a group of lawyers in Sierra Leone – working for the Christian Lawyers Centre, wrote a letter to the country’s Chairman and Members of the Police Council, through the Office of the Vice President.  This is what the letter says:

Dear Honourable Chairman and Members,

Appeal for your positive intervention over the continued unconstitutional detention of Dr Sylvia Blyden, Mrs Palo Conteh, Hussain Muckson and others by the Sierra Leone Police.

As a legal advocacy organization that defends the rights of vulnerable groups, promotes respect for the rule of law, due process and constitutionality in Sierra  Leone, Christian Lawyers Centre (hereinafter referred to as LEGAL LINK) feels compelled to write you this letter and to further seek your direct intervention regarding the above subject matter.

No doubt, the Police Council, by virtue of Section 158 of the 1991 Constitution has been charged with the responsibility of ensuring  the efficient and effective administration of the Sierra Leone police.

By section 157 (3) of the 1991 constitution also, the Police Council  has the power to dismiss, reduce in rank and / or exercise disciplinary control over the top management of the Sierra Leone police.

In line with these above constitutional provisions, the mammoth of influence that your institution wields over the Sierra Leone police in terms of discipline and ensuring compliance to the rule of law and constitutionality cannot be underestimated.

It is vital to therefore bring to your urgent attention that several appeals which have been made by civil  society organisations to the leadership and Management of the Sierra Leone police regarding the above subject have not yielded any fruits; hence the reason for our escalation to this August body.

The apparent  acquiescence and or failure to act by the Inspector General of Police over the continued illegal detention of the above named suspects is not only worrying but further poses a clear and present danger to our democratic and human rights credentials at the International level since Sierra Leone will soon be reviewed for the third time by the United Nations Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.

That the Inspector General of Police is himself a member of the Police Council, affords therefore a golden opportunity for an objective conversation to be held together with him regarding respect for the rule of law, fundamental human rights of suspects and compliance to the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone.

Hon Chairman and Members of the Police Council, you will agree that when it comes to arrests and detention of suspects by the police, the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone provides clear and precise timelines that must guide such arrests and detention.

Section 17 sub section (2) and (3) of the 1991 constitution provides thus:

2) “Any person who —

(a) is arrested or detained shall be informed in writing or in a language that he understands at the time of his arrest, and in any event not later than twenty-four hours, of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention;

(b) is arrested or detained shall be informed immediately at the time of his arrest of his right of access to a legal practitioner or any person of his choice, and shall be permitted at his own expense to instruct without delay a legal practitioner of his own choice and to communicate with him confidentially.

(3) Any person who is arrested or detained in such a case as is mentioned in paragraph (e) or (f) of subsection (1) and who is not released shall be brought before a court of law —

(a) within ten days from the date of arrest in cases of capital offences, offences carrying life imprisonment and economic and environmental offences; and

(b) within seventy-two hours of his arrest in case of other offences; and if any person arrested or detained in such a case as is mentioned in the said paragraph (f) is not tried within the periods specified in paragraph (a) or (b) of this section, as the case may be, then without prejudice to any further proceedings which may be brought against him he shall be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions, including in particular, such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for trial or proceedings preliminary to trial.”

The reason why the drafters of the 1991 constitution inserted such sacred provisions into the GRUNDNORM ( the highest law) is to jealously guard and protect the fundamental human rights of suspects from violation by law enforcement agencies as they carry out their constitutional duty.

But apart from our national constitution, it is vital to also pinpoint that several international human rights laws, treaties and covenants also contain guided provisions with respect to arrests and detention of suspects by law enforcement agencies.

Such International instruments include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Mandela Rules, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Luanda Guidelines.

Since Sierra Leone is a party to all of these International instruments, it therefore puts an obligation on the government to ensure that its law enforcement agencies acts in a professional way and resist the urge to engage in arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention of suspects within its jurisdiction.

But from a cursory look at the actions of the Sierra Leone police especially in the wake of the global pandemic, it is apparent that grave violations of fundamental human rights have been occasioned by them in the handling of the aforementioned suspects beginning from their arrests right on to their detention at the Criminal Investigations Department.

For example, Dr Sylvia Blyden and Mrs Palo Conteh have both been in detention for about two weeks now without being charged to court or granted police bail.

There are also reports of allegations  of inhuman and degrading treatments, poor sanitary conditions, denial of food and water, unclear charges and limited access to legal representation meted out to suspects by the Sierra Leone police.

If these allegations are true, then they certainly will constitute a violation of the fundamental human rights of suspects as guaranteed not only under section 17 (2) and (3) of our 1991 constitution but also under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Mandela Rules, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Women in Africa and the Luanda Guidelines to which Sierra Leone is a party.

As a body that wields so much power and  influence over the Sierra Leone police, it is our hope that you will exert your influence in a positive way regarding this matter and  particularly ensure that the fundamental human rights of suspects currently detained at the Criminal Investigations Department are not only protected and respected by the Sierra Leone police but also the national and International frameworks that guarantees them.

Under International law, it is the state that has the obligation to protect, respect, fulfil and promote fundamental human rights.

We therefore call on your oversight institution to counsel and / or advise the top Management of the Sierra Leone police to ensure  that all suspects currently in detention at the Criminal Investigations Department are put on bail pending further investigations or court charges as required by Section 17(3) of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone.

In conclusion, and without prejudice or any gainsaying to the Constitutional mandate of the Sierra Leone Police, it is our candid view that in such a volatile COVID 19 environment like Sierra Leone, the need for decongestion of detention and or correctional facilities  cannot be over-emphasized.

Thanks for your understanding and cooperation. While anticipating your urgent response, please accept the assurances of our highest regards.

Yours Faithfully

Rashid Dumbuya Esq, Executive Director, Christian Lawyers Centre (LEGAL LINK) 

Cc:

The Hon.Minister of International Affairs

The Hon.Speaker of Parliament

The Hon. Attorney General and Minister of Justice

The Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone

Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps

The National Security Coordinator, Office of National Security

The Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone

The Executive Director, Legal Aid Board

The Chair, Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone

The Chair, National Commission for Democracy

The President, Sierra Leone Association of Journalists

The President, Sierra Leone Bar Association

All Political Parties

All heads of Civil Society Organisations

Media Houses

The General Public

12 Comments

  1. Indeed,truly elated to openly confess,that right here on this forum,is a man all patriotic Sierra Leoneans should be very proud of;I’m quite sure that everyone would’ve noticed by now,that the highly talented Young4na never ceases to outshine,and illuminate,through,and through like the dazzling rays of the Golden Sun,that suddenly appears out of nowhere,in the middle of frosty,crispy winter,bringing us hope,reassurances,and warmth even when everything,we see and touch is frozen stiff,and icy cold.

    Again,its always a joy to read his comments,for they are like handmade customized gifts packages,exquisite,and unique any way you choose to examine them.With a laser focused,unbiased,masterly precision,he can easily expose,and reduce shallow hypocrisy,ignorance,and falsehoods into scraps,and worthless grains of dust,and ashes.

    Plain,and simple;the man has proven,and consistently shown that he is trustworthy;that he is endowed,and gifted with courage,unmatched,astute abilities,and perceptions,that can be relied upon,when it comes to examining reality in our world today,that is oftentimes wrapped up in confusions,quagmires,and daunting challenges…and be rest assured,also,in complicated matters of utmost urgency,critical,and great importance,you can rely on him for credible,sensible answers.Well done,brother!

    • Hahahah, Oh Mr. Stargazer, I am humbled by your kind words. Truth be told, although I have been around longer in this platform, your artistic and mastery of the english language, along with your intellectual pragmatism in analyzing issues of concern pertaining to our beloved nation are unlike any I have seen for a longtime. I happen to be among those who yearn for an educated populace, owing to the fact that, these citizens will be capable of making informed decisions and hold our political class accountable.

      However, my observation in this forum, comprise of a few purported educated individuals, forces me to question the aforementioned theory. I mean how can one claim to be educated, yet analyses and perceives things in archaic medieval terms? At the very minimum, you will think most people will employ common sense in adding their voices to a debate, sadly, it appears they have even given up that aspect to think for themselves, all in the name of politics.

  2. People that have the ideas of rulling the country don’t have the power.and those with power have no idea to rule the country.

  3. George Mary Momoh says— “The persons of interest that you are demanding for their immediate release are also responsible in one way or the other for some violence in the country that has claimed the lives of some 18 people.”

    Mr. Momoh, if your assertion is indeed credible, wouldn’t it be the right thing for the government to provide evidence and charge these individuals to court? Did you actually read and understand the entire press release by the christian lawyers or you are just allowing your politically biased impulses to get the best of you, exposing your ignorance. Please try to do better next time. All we are saying is that, charge these individuals to court if the evidence proves that they have committed a crime, else RELEASE them. Isn’t that what our laws and constitution mandated Mr. Momoh?

  4. Let Us not forget also that we are in the state of emergency and the government is more concerned with the saving of human lives from this covid-19 pandemic. The persons of interest that you are demanding for their immediate release are also responsible in one way or the other for some violence in the country that has claimed the lives of some 18 people. So, we dont hear you lawyers say anything concerning those lives lost and also advise government how to ensure that justice is served on their behalf except every now and then this so called Sylia Blyden.

    If really this was a true cause, these so called Christian Lawyers should watch at justice and legal interpretation of the constitution of Sierra Leone from a broad perspective and not just narrrow yourselves on one or two individuals of your interest. I therefore suggest that if you call yourselves Christian lawyers please be true Christian lawyers for Christ sake.

  5. The government continues to violate our constitution. No freedom of speech. No rule of law. Free our democracy.

  6. It is one thing for a country to have laws but, more importantly, on the other side of the spectrum lies the need for correct and fair implementation of those laws even when they seemingly don’t favour those responsible for their implementation.

  7. I’m impressed that the lawyers are taking this move towards the betterment of peace and justice to be done. The government itself knows they’re violating our consitutional rights daily, which is not called for in a democratic state. This has to stop – its enough.

  8. This is absolutely a violation against the fundamental human rights and an indication of the poor quality of democracy in the country. What is with the house of parliament? Silence?

  9. Mr. Government, stop this repression and violation of citizens human rights. Stop the bastardization of our constitution. Charge these individuals to court or RELEASE them for christ sake. This political witch hunting will only continue to derail our nation, enough is enough.!!!

    • Stop the Bastardisation of our constitution indeed. How could they charge someone who has done nothing wrong Young4na? They started with the prison break, that was never broken. Then, tried to find “YUKI YUKI” things, they will never find in Dr Sylvia Blyden’s home. Dr. Sylvia Blyden must be released unconditionally. Enough is enough as Young4na rightly Said. I hope President Bio and the Bio SLPP will listen and do the right and honourable thing. God help protect Dr Sylvia Blyden, Mrs Conteh and all the other detainees unlawfully incarcerated. God bless Young4na.

  10. Thanks for this great moves. I hope the authorities concerned will look into it. If love is promoted among us, we will prosper as a nation. If not then…

    A hero is known not by how many wars he won, but how many forgiveness he has given to his enemies. Lord rain down justice on to this matter.

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