Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 July 2020:
As the international community and Global human rights groups come to terms with the shooting of unarmed youths in Makeni, Sierra Leone on Saturday 18th July 2020, calls for those responsible for the killing of at least five young protesters to be brought to justice, are growing.
This is a report by the Global human rights group – ARTICLE 19, on the Makeni massacre:
Responding to the bloody repression of a protest in Makeni, which resulted in the killing of five protesters and injuring of a dozen on 18 July, Fatou Senghore, Regional Director of Article 19, West Africa said:
“What happened in Makeni this weekend is troubling. People were out in the street to exercise their right to protest. But the security forces responded with deadly force. We strongly condemn these unnecessary killings and attack against the freedom of expression and right to protest. We call on the Government to immediately investigate and bring to justice those suspected to be involved in the deadly repression”.
According to hospital and international medias sources, at least five persons, including a 15-years-old teenager, were killed and a dozen injured. An unconfirmed number of people were reportedly arrested and the authorities imposed a night curfew in the city.
Hundreds of persons, mainly youths, were gathering in the city to protest the decision of the Minister of Energy to relocate the locally based power generator to the Freetown International Airport.
When some protesters began throwing stones to the local office of the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party, the police and army responded with excessive force. First, they fired live ammunition in the sky to disperse the protesters. Most ran away, but some continued to throw stones. Then the security forces fired into the crowd resulting in the deaths, which may amount to unlawful killings, and injuries.
“Sierra Leone has the duty to protect the life and physical integrity of its citizens. There was no real and uncontrollable threat to life, so the security forces should never even have used their firearms. Why did they not do enough to de-escalate and respond to those who were throwing stones? It is unlawful to shoot at protesters solely to disperse them.”
Citizens have the right to contest a decision of public interest. The security forces should have limited their intervention to lawful means to stop those who used violence against a private office. Instead, they cracked down on the people with brutal and excessive force. People should never have to worry about their life when they go out on the streets to express contesting opinions. ” Fatou Senghore emphasized.
ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the use of disproportionate and excessive force, the use of lethal arms against unarmed protesters and the consequent deaths and injuries in violations of African and international laws and standards on the freedom of expression and rights to freedom of association and assembly.
Under its own and international law, Sierra Leone is obliged to carry out prompt, effective, independent, and impartial investigations into deaths resulting from the use of force by the security forces.
“We further urge the authorities to unconditionally release all protesters who were arrested solely for their expression. No one should be arrested for exercising the right to protest. Anyone suspected of a criminal offence should be charged to court and guaranteed a fair trial.” (END)
In its 2019 Annual Report, Executive Director of Article 19 – Thomas Hughes, said: “The wake-up call for expression is loud and clear. In 2018, we saw that freedom of expression and information reach their lowest point in a decade. Space for meaningful discussion and communication has come under siege, even while its defenders continue to battle and inspire.
“We have seen the rise of ‘strongman’ politicians and autocracy continue: politicians who we should look to for inspiration are often engaged in xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric, while the number of states that we look to for leadership became fewer in number.
“On the rise too, is the price of protecting the right to freedom of expression and information. Lethal attacks are just the tip of the iceberg, as enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, unlawful surveillance, gender-based violence, and harassment and intimidation continue, all with impunity.
“Hatred and violence against vulnerable communities are being stirred up by nationalists and right-wing groups seeking scapegoats. These narratives are increasingly normalised, even legitimised, by mainstream politics as it lurches away from human rights. More than ever we need informed citizens, strong institutions, and the rule of law: expression and information are the keys to this.”