Yankuba Kai Samba: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 02 July 2020:
No jury should convict a man when the prosecution blocked vital material evidence that could exonerate him. This was what I wrote two days before the jury reached their verdict.
The Paopa government supporters who had already convicted Paola Conteh for treason on social media, and frankly wanted him to face the gallows, have hailed his acquittal as a sigh of judicial independence and gave the credit to president Bio.
This is as bizarre as Paopa telling us that president Bio is the father of democracy in Sierra Leone.
How can the government charge a man for treason, when he should never have been charged in the first place? But when the government’s own lawyers woefully failed to provide an iota of evidence to secure a conviction, the credit goes to the president. What a bunch of shameless hypocrites.
I don’t know Paolo Conteh. We have never met and I can’t see the circumstances where we will ever meet. But from the very beginning, I published my opinion on the treason charges against him. It was fictitious, baseless and the evidence concocted to hang an innocent man.
But when the government charged him for treason, I issued a statement on Facebook, which challenged any lawyer to counter my argument that the treason charges against him were fictitious and that it would be unsafe to convict him.
The verdict by the ordinary men and women of the jury, acquitting him of 11 counts of treason is not a reflection of a judiciary independence. Rather, it is a rejection by the men and women of the jury, of the politics of revenge.
The government decided to charge Paolo with treason, fully aware that it was never a case of treason, and not a spec of evidence to realistically secure a conviction. Indeed this was underlined by one of the state witnesses – a police officer, who testified that he was directed by the Attorney General to proffer treason charges.
In an atmosphere of heightened political tensions between the government and the main opposition party, it’s a serious political miscalculation and high risk to seek to convict a former government minister on evidence that doesn’t exist at all. (Photo: Sierra Leone’s Attorney General -Dr Priscilla Schwartz ).
This verdict is a victory for common sense and a rejection of the Paopa government’s politics of revenge.
To me, the verdict is not evidence of judicial independence but shows the courage of the jury. A man stood to lose his life when it was patently clear there wasn’t a shred of evidence to return a guilty verdict.
We need to see more judgements given against the government, including on constitutional violations and electoral fraud litigations, before we can begin to examine how far our judiciary is free from corruption and covert political influence.
It is two years since a former government minister in the ousted APC administration of president Koroma – Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, filed an election petition against the winner of the 2018 election – president Bio. The court has never deliberated on that petition.
It is over a year and a half since both the Paopa SLPP government of president Bio and the main opposition party APC, simultaneously filed election petitions against each other, for electoral irregularities. What’s the outcome?
The court swiftly decided on the petition brought by the government, which led to 9 previously elected APC MPs removed from their seats in parliament, turning a government minority into a majority in parliament.
Up till today, the court has not deliberated on the petition filed against the MPs of the ruling SLPP by the opposition APC. This delay has allowed the unscrupulous government to take advantage of the judicial increments of MPs it now has, to pass controversial legislations in parliament.
There are several other cases filed against the government but no hearing from the court. These include petitions against the Falaba and Constituency 110 Bye elections. It would take between a week and two weeks for the court to have decided on these petitions. But up till today nothing has been done.
When the judiciary become aware of the imperative of its independence from political corruption and interference, and collectively become more assertive in upholding the law and justice, without any notice to political influence, then Sierra Leone will be a country of laws – where politicians will be afraid.