Siera Leone Telegraph: 24 July 2021:
Parliamentarians in Siera Leone have voted unanimously to abolish the death penalty after intense debate, making the country the 23rd African state to end capital punishment, widely regarded as a legacy of British colonial law enforcement regime.
Since gaining independence in 1961, successive governments in Sierra Leone have used the death penalty to score political points and eradicate their opponents, especially in the 1970s under the brutal communist-style rule of Siaka Probyn Stevens.
In 1992 a group of soldiers – dubbed the NPRC, led by the current president – retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and Captain Valentine Strasser executed dozens of people after staging a coup and holding on to power for almost four years before elections were held.
Many in Sierra Leone are still holding the leaders of the NPRC including president Bio, responsible for the extra-judicial killing of their loved ones.
They are calling for justice as parliament yesterday abolished the death penalty which cynics say have been prompted by the president himself trying to avoid the death penalty, if he is in the future found guilty of those killings.
A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty was put in place in 1998, after former president Kabbah executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt.
Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty is mandatory for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.
Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.
Speaking to the New York Times, he said: “I can tell you that we had to reflect on it quite a bit,” he said. “We thought of the political use of the death penalty, which has dogged us.”
He added: “We’ve had a history here where people have been charged with treason. Some have been hanged.”
Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.
Across sub-Saharan Africa last year, Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.
In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020.
In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.