Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 May 2020:
As fears grow over the continuing detention of the former defence minister Palo Conteh, Dr Sylvia Blyden and others, serious questions are now being asked about the government’s refusal to allow close family and legal representatives to see them.
It is now almost twenty days since Dr Blyden was arrested and taken into detention in appalling conditions at the CID in Freetown, without charge.
According to legal experts, the decision to detain Dr Blyden (Photo below) and other opposition politicians without immediate due legal process, is in violation of the country’s constitution. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” lawyer Kamara told the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
Yesterday, Amnesty International expressed grave concern, and is asking the government of Sierra Leone to immediately disclose the whereabouts of those detainees.
“Authorities in Sierra Leone must reveal the whereabouts of a former Defence Minister and two others arrested since 19 March, allow them access to their lawyers and families, and guarantee a fair trial,” Amnesty International said.
According to the Amnesty statement, “Former minister Alfred Paolo Conteh was arrested on 19 March for stepping in the State House with a gun ahead of a meeting on COVID-19 responses. Retired Colonel Sir Anthony Sinnah deputy commissioner of the National Commission on Small Arms and Prince George Jusu were also arrested in relation to the same incident. They were charged with treason and other related crimes. Their trial is ongoing, and hearings are scheduled to resume next week.
“On 29 April, five inmates and two prison guards died following a riot amid COVID-19 case at Freetown’s prison where the three accused were held. They were then transferred in an unknown location following that incident.
“Amnesty International calls for information on the whereabout of the detainees and the application of standard minimum rules for their treatment: standard accommodation, personal hygiene, food, medical services and other health care.
“According to their lawyers there are concerns about the safety of their clients. The prison authorities have not yet responded to their letter requesting access to their clients. Even if lawyers cannot see the detainees in prison due to the measures put in place to fight COVID-19, authorities must ensure that lawyers are able to communicate with them, to assess their health and to coordinate their defence strategy.
“Fair trial principles should be applied including the detainees having adequate opportunity to prepare a case, participate in future hearings, present arguments and evidence and challenge or respond to opposing arguments or evidence. They should be entitled to consult and be represented by a legal representative or other qualified persons chosen by them at all stages of the proceedings,” the statement end.
Two days ago, the country’s chief justice said that some courts will be opened next Monday, so as to begin the trial of those arrested and detained, following a wave of social unrest that took place across the country last week.
But it is not clear whether Palo Conteh’s case will continue next week, after State prosecutors failed or refused to produce the video recording as evidence – showing Palo Conteh (Photo) walking into State House with a gun, as alleged.
It is also not certain whether Dr Blyden will be charged this weekend to appear in court next week.
Sierra Leone’s poor human rights record is facing serious risk of worsening, as president Bio resolves to tighten his grip on what he refers to as “terrorism” and growing lawlessness in the country.
Calls for president Bio to establish an independent investigation into the shooting and killing of dozens of unarmed prisoners by heavily armed presidential guards in Freetown are growing.
Police headquarters in Freetown published a statement this morning about investigations it says it is conducting, as another opposition politician – a member of parliament – Lahai Marrah of Constituency 045 in Koinadugu District, was arrested and taken into police custody for allegadly inciting public hatred against president Bio’s government.
This is what the statement says:
“Following an incendiary statement made on WhatsApp by sitting Honourable Lahai Marrah of Constituency 045 Koinadugu District on Saturday 9th May, 2020, the Sierra Leone Police would like to inform the general public that it has commenced investigation into the said issue.
“This statement, which was and still making rounds on social media, is considered to bring into hatred or contempt, or incite disaffection for the Government of Sierra Leone and stir up rebellion.
“Against this background, the CID has launched a full-scale investigation into alleged Sedition and other related offences against Honourable Marrah.
“The SLP further wants the public to know that after following due protocols and processes, Hon. Marrah availed himself at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and our Detectives have obtained statements from him; to which he admitted to have originated the post, though he denied claims of having circulated it.
“Meanwhile, he is detained at the CID, assisting with the investigation. The public will be updated of developments as the matter progresses.”