Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 April 2020:
In the last few hours, there have been serious rioting and shooting at the male correctional Pademba Road prison in Freetown which houses some of the most dangerous prisoners , as well as a group of high profile political detainees in the country.
Some of the political detainees include the previous government’s former defence and internal affairs minister – retired major Palo Conteh as well as the opposition APC party’s former mayor of Freetown – Herbert George Williams.
Palo Conteh is being held in custody after he was charged with treason for allegedly taking a gun into State House, where he was to hold a meeting with the president.
According to reports, the shooting at the prison by police and the military, started at about 9am when prisoners set several buildings alight.
Heavily armed police and the army opened fire – including live bullets within and around the vicinity of the prison complex, as some prisoners were alleged to have been trying to escape.
The number of casualties is not yet clear, but there are reports of one prison officer killed. According to the information minister speaking to journalists in the last few minutes, “there are several casualties”, but he was unable to confirm the number of those killed or seriously injured in the rioting.
Today’s rioting and shooting come as one of the inmates at the Pademba Road prison was yesterday confirmed to be carrying the COVID-19 virus after test was conducted. This prompted the country’s chief justice to order the temporary suspension of all court proceedings across the country to protect magistrates, judges, and court officials.
According to the Public Notice published by Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards on 27th April 2020, the infected inmate attended the East End Police Station in Freetown and later appeared at the Magistrate court on the 17th of April 2020, before he was removed to Pademba Road.
Three days later, the COVID-19 infected prisoner reported sick on the 20th April 2020 and was admitted at the Pademba Road Prison Hospital.
The chief justice’s statement said: “During his admission he confessed that he escaped from a quarantine centre at Cow Yard, Guard Street, Freetown and he was referred to 34 Hospital and later to Connaught hospital on Friday, 24th April 2020. On Sunday, 26th April he was confirmed positive and is now Case 90.”
As a result of this COVID-19 incident, the Chief Justice said he has ordered the following measures in consultation with the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General of the Sierra Leone Correctional Centre:
- All inmates at the Freetown male re-integration centre hereinafter called “the isolation and observation unit” at Special Court be transferred to the Male Correctional Centre at Pademba Road.
- All inmates at the remand section at Pademba Road and the Correctional Hospital are now with immediate effect relocated to “the isolation and observation unit” at Special Court as a quarantine measure; inmates from the Correctional Hospital will be transferred / treated separately from the other inmates;
- The Church Building at Pademba Road will be temporarily used as a Medical Referral Centre for inmates at the male correctional centre.
Regarding the suspension of all court sittings, the chief justice announced that:
The Civil High Court which was scheduled to commence work from the 11th May 2020 has been postponed to Monday 10th June 2020; the January criminal session comes to an end with immediate effect; the special criminal sessions which were scheduled to start on the 8th May 2020 are now postponed to Thursday 28th of May 2020; and the May criminal sessions commencing 18th May 2020 is also postponed to Monday 10 of June 2020.
It is not clear what prompted today’s rioting at the Pademba Road prison, and the government says it has started an investigation. But there is no doubt this could be connected to the reported coronavirus at the prison, as well as the suspension of all court trials.
Thousands of prisoners are being locked up in remand, pending court sitting which in Sierra Leone could take several years before they appear in court.
These are some of the videos from this morning’s rioting: