Sierra Leone civil rights activist charged to court as students grant saga continues

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 March 2020:

Yesterday, the Executive Director of the Citizens Advocacy Network (CAN) – Mr Thomas Moore Conteh and dozens of students of the Limkokwing University were manhandled, arrested and detained by the Sierra Leone Police in Freetown at a peaceful protest march, calling on the government to honour the decision of the previous government to pay the fees of Limkokwing University students that are on government grant.

It is understood that all of the students arrested were released without change last night, except the civil rights activist – Thomas Moore Conteh who slept behind bars and remains in police detention.

According to the police, there was no license issued to the protesters for yesterday’s public demonstration, which they said was disrupting vehicle traffic at the business district of the capital.

The police also said that they warned the protesters to disperse and allow their leaders to have dialogue with the police to discuss their application for the protest march, but the university student protesters and Mr Thomas Moore Conteh refused, and were then arrested.

See video below of the police warning protesters to disperse:

The students say that they have been sitting at home for over six months – not attending classes, because the Bio-led government has refused to pay their fees to the University as was agreed in the scholarship award letter given to them by the ministry of education.

Last night, the country’s minister of information – Mohamed Rahman Swaray, gave this statement to the Sierra Leone Telegraph:

“It is a fact that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) issued by the previous government, was self-serving and fraudulent. First of all, it never went through cabinet or parliament but still, the government committed itself to paying tuition fees for 1200 students at 3000 dollars per year for five year degree programmes and 2500 dollars per year for three year diploma students as per the flawed MOU.

“There are no records that the ‘lucky students ‘ ever went through competitive interviews. Still our government in her fervent belief in human capital development committed to and have paid arrears amounting to over twenty three billion Leones to offset the backlog we inherited.

“But it is unwise and unfair to students in public universities for government to continue paying such whopping amounts for private university education for a few people, while a lot more people could be catered for with the same amount.

“To ensure that we bring a closure to this ill-conceived MOU, government will continue to pay the same SLG amount to government sponsored students of Limkokwing and nothing more. This means that students will now have to pay their funding gap if they wish to continue at the Limkokwing university.

“I also wish to note that the university practically reneged on all their own side of the MOU commitment, including – offering one scholarship for every one hundred scholarships offered by government; train 200 public servants every year, and lots more.

“The good news is that government will soon launch the student loan scheme for which all Sierra Leonean  students will be eligible to apply. This is a historic window of opportunity for all students of Sierra Leone.”

But as this saga continues, it is the arrest and detention of Thomas Moore Conteh who is not a student but a civil society activist, that is now making the headlines.

Latest report is that Thomas Moore Conteh was this morning charged to the Pademba Road Magistrate Court; according to his supporters – “for simply coming out to advocate for students of this country”.

But human rights groups and many in Sierra Leone are criticising the police for their arbitrary use of police powers and discrimination.

They say that last week, a pro-government activist by the name of Edmund Abu, organised a protest in parliament demanding the scrapping of the government’s passport printing contract. His protest march involving dozens of people, caused disruption to proceedings in parliament without anyone facing arrest or detention.

Edmund Abu, critics say did not have the approval or license from the police to organise his protest march last week. So why was he not arrested?

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