Alan Luke: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 03 November 2022:
Yesterday, Wednesday 2nd November 2022, Court No1, Pademba Road was subjected to another circus, as Julius Maada Bio’s government continues its scorched earth policy to drag all our institutions down with his massively unpopular government, which is staring defeat as we approach the 2023 elections.
Unfortunately, there are many willing participants in this, notably the police and criminal justice system, and this was evident in the continuation of the case against Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, for allegedly obstructing the police in the course of their duties and disorderly behaviour.
The cross examination of two of the State’s witnesses, especially Sgt Osman Kanu, an officer with 20 years’ service in the Sierra Leone Police Force, would have been funny, if it were not so tragic. Police Officers who should uphold the law are more inclined to set up citizens and frame allegations against them, even where the evidence against the allegation is overwhelming. The rot under IG Sovula, continues at pace under IG Sellu.
It was the turn of the third and fourth witnesses for the prosecution to continue to lie under oath. Sargent Osman Kanu took to the stand. He confirmed that he was on duty in Freetown when the allegations of obstruction of duty and disorderly behaviour were made by officers against Mayor Aki-Sawyerr. He confirmed that he obtained statements in respect of both charges from the witnesses. Following this, he said that the Police extended an invitation to Mayor Aki-Sawyer on 3rd October 2022 and that both he and the Deputy Superintendent had interviewed her when she reported to Police on the same day. He stated that Mayor Aki-Sawyerr was shown a video and that she had responded accordingly.
During the hearing Sargeant Kanu informed the court that he will tender the details of the interview made on 3rd October 2022. He also said that he had downloaded a video clip, which he said was stored on a pen drive and kept at the Cyber Crime Room of the Police Station.
Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, defense counsel for Mayor Aki-Sawyerr, did not raise an objection to the details of the interview been tendered, but maintained that the defence was not aware of the video clip that Sgt Kanu referred to. At this point, defence counsel objected to Sgt Kanu tendering the video clip. He maintained that Mohamed Jusu (fourth witness) who had given the video clip to Sgt Kanu, should be the person tendering the video clip. He noted that the court had not been given any reasons why Mr Jusu could not tender the video clip himself.
In response the prosecution maintained that Sgt Kanu would not be tendering the evidence, but merely identifying them. Nonetheless, this did not stop the prosecutor from asking Sgt Kanu questions about the documents and video clip. Several objections were made by defence counsel, which were overruled by Magistrate Ngeba.
What this exchange highlights is that the criminal justice system is failing to maintain basic rules of procedure and if it cannot do that, how can it safeguard the basic right of citizens to a fair trial?
Under cross-examination, defence counsel asked Sgt Kanu if he went to Lungi Police Station to verify the allegations of obstruction of duties and disorderly behaviour, which was alleged against Mayor Aki-Sawyer. Sgt Kanu confirmed that he did. Defence counsel further asked him on what day Sgt Kanu went to Lungi – Sgt Kanu claimed that he could not remember.
Defense counsel asked Sgt Kanu who he spoke to at Lungi Police Station. Sargeant Kanu said that he had spoken to Corporal Fanta Fofanah and Sgt Caulker. Defence counsel further asked – Did you document your interviews you held with the two witnesses when you went to Lungi? Sgt Kanu said that he did not.
Defence Counsel also asked Sgt Kanu if he interviewed other people at the Police Airport Division, Lungi. He said that he did as part of evidence gathering for his investigation. Defense Counsel asked for the names of those interviewed. Sgt Kanu stated that he did not record their names.
Defense Counsel asked if he recorded the interviews with these “faceless, nameless” police officers in Lungi and Sgt Kanu said he didn’t. Defense Counsel then put it to Sgt Kanu that he had not visited Lungi Police Station to verify the allegations and to obtain statements from police officers.
What this exchange highlights, is the woeful lack of professionalism which is endemic in the country’s police force. When you encounter the criminal justice system in Sierra Leone, there appears to be a concerted attempt by the police, to make the case fit the crime, rather than working from a presumption of innocence and allowing the evidence to lead to an outcome of guilt or innocence.
Defence counsel went on to ask Sgt Kanu, if one Commissioner Lahai had been present during the interview of Mayor Aki-Sawyerr on 3rd October 2022. Sargent Kanu admitted that Commissioner Lahai was present and had asked two questions. Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara put it to Sgt Kanu that the mayor was not charged based on evidence obtained by Sgt Kanu but rather based on the instructions of Commissioner Lahai.
Next to take the stand was Mr Mohamed Jusu of the Cybercrime Unit. Mr Jusu said that he received the pen drive containing the video clip from Sargent Kanu. He told the court that the accused, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr was in the video clip and that he had checked the video clip that it was authentic. He testified that he had made his own report following his review of the video. The video was played in court. This was the same Facebook Live video which Mayor Aki-Sawyerr had made at Lungi before catching her flight to Paris, enroute to the United Nations General Assembly.
In the video Mayor Aki-Sawyerr was clearly traumatized, emotional and frustrated about the lack of process in the arrest of Councillor Turay (which she had subsequently found out about through a phone call from the phone of Sgt Caulker – witness number 2). The mayor was consequently also asking questions about the operations of the police. It was this 1 minute 25 second video that the police presented in court today, as evidence of obstructing the police in their duties and disorderly behaviour. At this point, Magistrate Ngeba adjourned the hearing until tomorrow Friday 4th November 2022.
When we reflect on the fact that about sixty percent of detainees in our correctional system are pre-trial detainees, you will appreciate why this political witch hunt and farce, orchestrated by the Bio government against Mayor Aki-Sawyerr, is indeed a tragedy.
Time and resources which could be directed towards reducing the number of detainees who are being held within our prisons, is wasted on a futile attempt to bring criminal charges against an extremely popular mayor, to clear the path for the SLPP candidate at the forth coming elections.
However, this shabby attempt will fail, just as all other attempts to stain Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s reputation have also failed.