Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 July 2020:
There are reports from Sierra Leone that the president has instructed the country’s Office of National Security (ONS) to lead what the government refer to as an “independent investigation” into the rioting which took place last saturday in the northern city of Makeni, where unarmed demonstrators protesting the removal of a 1.65 megawatts electricity generator from the city to the town of Lungi were shot by security forces.
But critics say that an investigation led by the government’s Office of National Security, cannot be regarded as wholly independent. What they say is needed is a High Court Judge led investigation into what took pace in makeni and what circumstances led to the breakdown in law and order.
At least five young people aged 15years to 24years were reported dead, and about a dozen injured from gunshots fired by the military and the police.
The fate of more than 50 protestors transferred to the capital Freetown after their arrest, remain unknown. There are fears they are being kept at the overcrowded Pademba Road prison where they may languish for many years to come without charge or trial.
Local police commander – Chief Supt Joe Songu told reporters that the protesters were burning tyres and threatening to burn down the electricity office in the town to stop the generator from being removed.
He said the police used teargas to disperse the protestors but did not confirm the use of live bullets by the military.
But several eyewitnesses say that heavily armed soldiers arrived at the scene and started shooting live bullets at the crowd.
A government statement on the fatal disturbance signed by the minister of information – Mohamed Rahman Swarray, said that “anyone trying to undermine the peace will face the fullest force of the law,” but failed to express sympathy or remorse for the loss of lives.
This threat by the government has been interpreted by opposition supporters as a euphemism for more bloody outcome.
They cite several examples of the use of deadly force by the Bio-led SLPP government since elected to power in 2018, including: Killing in mile 91 Tonkolili; Killing in Tonko Limba, Kambia; Killing in Lunsar, Port Loko; Killing in Tombo, Western Rural; Killing of 31 unarmed protesting prisoners at Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, Western Urban; and last Saturday’s Killing in Makeni in Bombali.
All those killings, critics of the government say took place in the northern and westerns political strongholds of the opposition APC party.
Immediately after the shooting, the Sierra leone Police published this statement: “The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) wishes to inform the public that calm has returned to Makeni City, following riotous and public disorder, earlier reported on today’s date (18/07/2020).
“The Police and the Military are currently patrolling the township and its environs; thereby addressing all policing issues requiring their attention and intervention. The curfew, which was earlier imposed, with the view to help maintain order, remains indefinite. Any changes to it will be duly communicated.
“The public will also be updated on the extent of damage to property and/or loss of lives during the public disorder. Meanwhile, 51 arrested male suspects, have been transferred to Freetown, and are now helping the Police with the investigation. Expect more details as they unfold.”
A group of members of parliament of the opposition APC, representing constituencies across Bombali Distrct, have published a statement, calling for an independent inquiry into the civil disturbance and lethal use of force by the police and military in Makeni last saturday. This is what they said:
“We the Members of Parliament (MPs) from Bombali district condemn, in the strongest of terms, the violence that took place in Makeni city from Friday 17th to Saturday 18th July, 2020, which has led to the needless loss of lives and destruction of properties. We are particularly disturbed by, and we expressly deplore the (unprovoked) use of excessive and disproportionate lethal force by police and military personnel against unarmed protesters exercising their civic rights.
“Noting with grave concern the allegation that the police made certain arrests of individuals from their houses, we hereby caution the police to be humane and respectful of the rights of individuals in their custody and not to subject them to torture and ill treatment. We also hereby remind Security Personnel that as per their statutory responsibility in any democratic state, they are bound to defend and protect the lives and properties of citizens.
“Regarding the critical prior public engagement, we believe that if there was a proper and adequate dialogue with and sensitisation of the community, there would have been full understanding of the rationale for government to relocate the city’s backup generator to another region. such critical engagement would have ensured everybody’s participation in Makeni, a city which has always been peaceful.
“In view of this, we the MPs from Bombali further express disappointment with what we believe was the Ministry of Energy’s insensitivity to the situation regarding the rush and odd time (late night of 17th July 2020) that the officials (from EDSA) went to remove the 1.65 Mega Watts back up generator from the electricity station in Makeni. Such rush and odd timing only fed into the suspicion created by the lack of adequate stakeholders’ and community engagement on the issue.
“While calling on our people in Makeni to continue maintaining the peace for which are well known for; we implore the full attention of National and International human rights organizations to this most unacceptable loss of lives and maiming of protesters.
“Meanwhile we urge the SLPP Government of President Julius Maada Bio to promptly institute an independent, impartial and effective inquiry into that violent siege on Makeni city and to ensure that perpetrators face the full force of the law. While we await justice, fairness and accountability, we extend our profound condolences to the bereaved families for the loss of their loved ones and wish speedy recovery to those with bullets injuries.
“Sign: 1.Hon. Sallieu O. Sesay Constituency 038; Hon. Dr. Mark Mahmoud Kalokoh Constituency 032; Hon. Catherine Zainab Tarawally Constituency 037; Hon. Peter Yamba Koroma Constituency 033; Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo Constituency 034; Hon. Manuel Alieu Koroma Constituency 036; Hon. Paul Samba Conteh Constituency 035; Hon. John Charles Conteh Constituency 031.”
The Mayor of Makeni also published this statement:
Yesterday, the Independent Police Board (IPB) published this statement: