Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 May 2019:
Following continuous accusations of human rights abuse and public outcry by some civil society groups and the main opposition political party – the APC, against the Bio led SLPP government, the ministry of information and communications has today published a statement, denying those accusations.
President Julius Maada Bio in his address at the State opening of parliament last week, extended an offer of reconciliation through a national conference to be held sometime soon, where all political parties, civil society groups, religious leaders and stakeholders, will discuss their grievances and map out a way forward to resolving their differences.
But this offer has been dismissed by the opposition APC as they continue their campaign of ‘passive resistance’ amid shouts of government abuse of power.
In its statement published today, the government’s ministry of information says: “Whilst Government commits itself to upholding human rights and deepening the democratic space, let it be noted that rights have accompanying responsibilities, and Government expects all citizens especially civil society organizations who hold duty bearers to account to demonstrate this in their dealings with duty bearers”.
This is the full statement of the ministry of information, titled ‘REAFFIRMING GOVERNMENT’S COMMITMENT TO HUMAN RIGHTS AND RULE OF LAW:
“Government notes with disquiet a press release from some civil society organizations on alleged attacks on civil society and human rights defenders. Whilst the release does not expressly indict government, yet it makes veiled references or insinuations of attempts at gagging free speech and impugning on the human rights of Sierra Leoneans.
“Government condemns any attempt at inhibiting free speech, and reiterates its commitment to ensuring that freedom of expression is exercised without let or hindrance.
“The public is fully aware that President Julius Maada Bio campaigned on a promise of upholding human rights, fundamental freedoms and dignity, and he has not veered off that path.
“Since his election as President, he has bent backwards to accommodate all shades of opinion and has absorbed all manner of taunts, disrespect for his person and office, and coped with unnecessary irritabilities.
“Few days ago, APC Parliamentarians behaved ‘infra dignitatem’ by walking out of Parliament at the time of the national anthem and just when His Excellency President Bio had made his entrance and set to deliver his annual speech to the Nation.
“As a show of commitment to broadening the space for participatory governance, Government has committed itself to decriminalizing the 1965 seditious and defamatory libel law, and concrete steps are being taken to actualize it.
“To further deepen the national discourse, President Bio has initiated a national dialogue forum in the form of Bintumani III. This is testimony of government’s sensitivity to the concerns of the people of Sierra Leone.
“As a government committed to protecting the rights of every citizen, we hereby request civil society groups expressing concerns about shrinking democratic space to substantiate their claims to enable Government to address their concerns.
“Government notes with consternation, allegations that rights defenders have been physically attacked across the country for dissenting views. Civil society and rights defenders who have been attacked as alleged in the press release of May 7, 2019 are encouraged to show such proofs and take legal action against aggressors, and would be assured of government’s unflinching support.
“Whilst Government commits itself to upholding human rights and deepening the democratic space, let it be noted that rights have accompanying responsibilities and Government expects all citizens especially civil society organizations who hold duty bearers to account to demonstrate this in their dealings with duty bearers.
“Members of Civil Society Organisations should also be circumspect that they owe a duty to engage responsibly without demeaning State Authority or using language in public discourse that would undermine their impartiality.
“Government remains focused on addressing the critical challenges facing our country.”
Will the president’s proposed Bintumani 3 National Reconciliation Conference go ahead?