Will justice and rule of law ever return to Sierra Leone?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 August 2019:

Her 73 year old dad – Mr Victor Remoe-Doherty, was picked up over two weeks ago by the police, after violence broke out in Hamilton, Freetown, between supporters of the ruling SLPP and the opposition APC party.

He was then locked up at the notorious Pademba Road prison, after application for bail had been refused, and despite his incessant denial of ever being anywhere near the scene of the violence or involved in the riot.

She is Vickie Remoe – one of Sierra Leone’s few female journalists that have succeeded in breaking the gender discrimination glass ceiling that is holding back millions of women back in Sierra Leone from achieving their professional aspiration. She is editor and publisher of the magazine – Go Woman, a publication that features women issues on the African continent.

So why was Vicky’s dad, who is suffering from serious multiple health conditions arrested and locked up in prison, without proper due process?

Last week, all twenty-three, alleged by the police to be members of the opposition APC party, appeared at the Magistrate Court in Freetown for the second time in two successive weeks. And on each occasion, where denied bail.

How soon is Sierra Leone forgetting the roots of the ten year civil war that ravaged the lives of six million people, the effects of which are still present?

Despite a change of government through the ballot box last March, Sierra Leone is still struggling to tackle injustice, abuse of power, impunity, breakdown of law and order, and poor governance.

Writing in her blog yesterday, Vickie Remoe (Photo) said that “systemized injustice is the reason why no one is safe in Sierra Leone”.

She questions the fairness of the country’s justice system, and the gross abuse of human rights that are being committed – all in the name of party politics. This is what she said:

Poto is a tall dark medium built Fulani man. He is handsome and soft-spoken. Until he was arrested on July 30 and brought to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) I did not know his name was Mohamed Jalloh. His mother gave me a bottle of Mega Cola, some Panadol, and a bar of soap to repel mosquitoes to give to him. I could get into the lockup area she couldn’t.

I placed a meat pie from Salvonne Bakery in the bag. The lock-up officer told me I could not give him the Panadol so I removed it. I stood at the bars, separating the free from the imprisoned. There is no light in there. The bodies of other accused men behind the bars block my voice’s penetration into the cell.

I call out to him. ”Poto!”, ”Poto!”. The other prisoners echoed his name. “Poto! Poto! Den Dey call you! Ooda na Poto?”

Eventually, I heard his voice. “Na Me!” he said. Poto came forward. I saw him and felt overwhelmed with shame. As I handed him the small plastic bag, he smiled.

”I’m so sorry Poto.” He smiled again. The shame I felt seeing Poto was two-fold. I had just come from talking to the boss at CDIID about granting my father bail on account of his health. I know Poto because he is the closest thing my dad has to an assistant. My old “get na hand” Papa who trusts no one, trusts only Poto to go in and out of his house whether he is in town or not.

I could not talk to anyone about giving Poto bail. When I asked I was told ”betteh focus pan yu Daddy”, let’s work on your Dad first. As a young man, his freedom and wellbeing was not important. I have some influence which I could use for my father but Poto had none.

He was arrested on the morning of Tuesday, July 30 on Dillet Street in Hamilton, Constituency 110. He was arrested along with other young men in the community, and 73-year-old Victor Remoe-Doherty, my father. In total 23 people were arrested in Constituency 110.

Poto has no known political affiliation. He is just a man in the community who works as an aide to my old man.

Poto and 22 others have been held in custody by the Sierra Leone Police since July 30. They have not been granted bail. Poto is not an official of a political party.

Reports of this detention say that 21 APC party officials have been detained. This is untrue. There are men being held who were just on the street or in the vicinity when the police arrived to arrest citizens.

They have been charged with 22 counts of riotous conduct, public disorder, destruction of property and more.

At the lock-up I was ashamed to look at Poto for two reasons; that I had been asking for my father’s bail and not his; but also because up until the day my father was arrested I had been living in a bubble.

In that bubble, I believed that there was a system of law and justice that protected citizens and ensured equality. It doesn’t mean that I was ignorant of the state of law and order but I truly believed that if I wasn’t involved “if ah noh mix” then I was safe.

I go and come, and mind my business. I follow the law, not even paying police the occasional bribe for traffic violations that are common here. I do the right thing because I want this country to change.

Even after the arrests were made I thought certainly this will pass. Surely no one is going to follow through with this. I was wrong.

Twenty-Three people are in Freetown’s Central Prison at Pademba Road. These people have been arrested and held beyond what is legal in Sierra Leone. They have been denied bail for two weeks come Tuesday. The 23 people are being called “APC party officials” but the majority of them are not that.

There are two other young men, separate cases beside Poto’s in prison that are even more ridiculous. A man pushing a wheelbarrow on the street the morning the police came to Hamilton was arrested. Another who had come from buying mosquito coil also was arrested and is in prison.

They are not politicians nor do they have any known political affiliation. They are just ordinary citizens.

The bottom line is that if you are a citizen of Sierra Leone you can end up in jail if someone accuses you of a crime. Whether you mix or you nor mix, once accused the police can arrest you.

I was able to secure bail for my father almost 72 hours in detention due to his age and his health status. That bail was revoked a couple of days later.

On Tuesday, August 6, he and Poto were remanded to Pademba Road Prison along with the 21 other accused. They were moved from CID. The case was recalled last Friday morning. I spoke to my father and he said his wasn’t feeling well but hoped they would be granted bail.

He has type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stage 4 kidney disease. There was no bail granted. All 23 accused were remanded back to Pademba Road. At about 4pm, I got word that my father had been hospitalized at the prison’s clinic. His health had taken a turn for the worse.

The petitioner who brought the case has a right to justice and to accuse those people she believes are guilty of the crimes committed against her. The police has a right to investigate and prosecute. The state has a right to hear the case, and the magistrate has a responsibility to adjudicate.

But what rights do the likes of Poto have? Who protects them? I cannot speak to his innocence or guilt, but I know that detaining him and others for 14 days on accusation without bail is inhumane.

While this is a political case, these issues are not political. The issue of human rights and dignity are not political.

Under the 1991 Constitution, an accused person must be brought before a court within 72 hours of his arrest in the case of misdemeanours and 10 days for a felony. They did not get to court until the seventh day of their arrest. On that day they were denied bail.

However, bail is not a right. This means the police, and the magistrate grant you bail at their discretion. If dem feel dem gee, if dem noh feel dem noh gee.

What hopes can a Poto have in light of what we know about the often compromised, often heavy-handed system of justice? What protection does any of us have?

If someone have you or your loved one arrested today, what do you do? Do you trust the system to try them and treat them fairly? Or will you pay a bribe or use all your contacts to exert influence to ensure that things go in your favor?

Today it might be Poto, but surely tomorrow it could be you, or your father. We have to fix the system.

Why did the police not charge this case within the 72 hours legally mandated? If they knew they were not going to charge the case in time, why did they not grant the accused bail?

Who made the decision to continue to detain them for a week; and how do we hold them accountable for this violation?

Why is everyone so quiet and silent about the arrest and detention of 23 citizens of Sierra Leone?

We have a culture of silence that makes us complicit in the destruction of the rule of law and the erosion of our own dignity in Sierra Leone.

The ”religious leaders” have been silent. The Human Rights Commission silent. I have been ”advised” to be silent.

What we have in Sierra Leone is not a justice system but systematized injustice.

I may be silent, but that doesn’t mean that I am afraid.

Aung San Suu Kyi – a Burmese politician, diplomat, author, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said: ”Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure.

“A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity.

“It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”

This is a video showing very distraught family members of the 23 accused persons, watching the prisoners being taken away to Pademba Road Prison again last Friday, after they were refused bail:

Editor’s Note:

The Magistrate – Hannah Boni, who has refused bail on both occasions that the 23 detainees have appeared in her Court, is now being told to remove herself from the case because of her alleged affiliation and membership of the ruling SLPP party. She is being accused of receiving orders from those close to State House to keep the 23 accused in prison.

Last weekend a recorded audio appeared on social media, where the Magistrate is alleged to be discussing the case with an angry opposition APC supporter. Human rights groups say that this recording has compromised the magistrate and must now remove herself from the case.

12 Comments

  1. The People’s Democratic League (PDL) wishes to draw once again the attention of Sierra Leoneans and the international community to the policy of discriminatory, exclusion, intimidation, purveying human rights and democratic freedoms of Sierra Leoneans and violation the basic tenets of the Constitution of Sierra Leone championed by the office of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) against the PDL.

    Much as we advocate democracy and democratic good governance in Sierra Leone, we see it as an affront to the practice of democracy, justice and rule of for the PPRC’s refusal to issue our party its final registration certificate as provided by the 1991 Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone. This is a cause for concern.

    It is not our policy to ridicule any established institution, but the policy of hate by the PPRC towards our party (PDL) cannot but should be seen as a recipe for political instability. Sierra Leoneans are tired of this kind of political mishap and warns the PPRC to respect the country’s Constitution. The PPRC should do the noble thing by issuing out PDL final registration certificate without further delay.

    This call is a naturally acclaimed demand and every Sierra Leonean owes it a duty and responsibility to ensure that PPRC, like any other state institution in the country works in accordance with the spirit and letter of the 1991 Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone, without any discrimination or hatred towards some Sierra Leoneans, especially the PDL members and supporters, whose only crime is their patriotic zeal to register and belong to a political party of their choice.

    We want to make it known to all Sierra Leoneans that our party (Legal under the constitution of Sierra Leone) will not sit idle whilst PPRC violates the constitutional human rights and democratic freedoms of our members, supporters and sympathisers in and outside the country. The PDL is a peaceful and law abiding party and will not be forced by the PPRC to deviate from these.

    We believe the time is now for Sierra Leoneans, no matter which party they belong, to shun PPRC crusader policy against the PDL. This call is intended not to create any discourse in the national body politics, but to demand for our rights, which have been trampled upon by the very people supposed to promote democracy in the country. Let common sense prevail now on PPRC. Luntha!

    Alimamy Bakarr Sankoh, Leader and National Chairman of PDL

  2. Is this the promise? Is this the way forward? I think this is only creating divisions. It’s time to rethink and correct the mistakes done and lead the nation to the right path.

  3. Let us put a stop to political violence in Sierra Leone. Violence is not the answer to our political ambition.

    Thomas Kargbo, Rutile (Gbangbatoke).Sierra Leone.

  4. The recent election that took place in Kono was between the SLPP and the C4C. It was free of violence because the APC didn’t participate, and this is a clue that the APC party is the common denominator when it comes to violence. I don’t believe that the police will just handpick an innocent 73 years old man as a culprit without any evidence leading to his arrest.

    I hope and pray that the citizens of our nation will allow the process to work and allow the different arms of the government to perform their duties and avoid cheap political propaganda, just to bring instability and lawlessness to our beloved nation.

    • And you should be one of those that should allow justice in this country. Sierra Leone is not for Mendes but for all ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Stop this mendecracy in Sierra Leone. Free the poor, it’s not by force to support your party.

  5. It is interesting that when violence reigns on the streets of Sierra Leone, the government is attacked for not enforcing the rule of law. But when at other times the government steps in to restore law and order and ensure that the citizens of Sierra Leone are safe, the government again gets criticized. This time for not allowing justice to prevail.

    Looking at that APC rally a couple of weeks ago, with their armed thugs storming the home of the SLPP candidate and torching her car in the midst of stones being pelted at her home and at her family members, what else would any rational thinker expect other than bringing those thugs to justice?

    Why would selective justice be expected to be rendered simply because the father of a prominent journalist happened to be one of the culprits in the breakdown of law and order and in the perpetration of violence on innocent and peaceful citizens?

    Let the law take its rightful course without any exogenous interference.

  6. Aung San Suu Kyi -is the wrong person to quote on an issue like this. Look what she and her government has done to the Rohingyas. No one can compare her governance ever happening in Sierra Leone. Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who lived under house arrest for many years for her pro-democracy activism, has failed to speak out over violence against the Rohingyas.

    There is even talk of taking away her Nobel Peace title. It is better to follow Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King when it comes to human dignity.

    • Mama Salone is a woman that has never enjoyed any of her marriages. We pray that not too far from now mama Salone will marry to the right husband that will take good care of her children . We need devine intervention. This country has been ripped and raped and the two major political parties are ruling this country not based on the constitution but what suits them when they are in power. The rule of law has to be executed.

  7. Indeed. I respect Magistrate Hannah Boni but, she must RECUSE herself from this matter immediately to save her reputation. What has happened is very disgraceful and unprofessional if it is true. By using the word RECUSE will send a strong signal to the learned Magistrate and all those trying to derail our democracy that, Sierra Leoneans will never sit idle and watch government/party officials try to destroy our hard earned peace, whether knowingly or unknowingly. We will use the appropriate english vocabularies to go on the attack.

    I will continue to watch this new development closely and make meaningful contribution. Finally, please RECUSE yourself from this case Madam Magistrate.

  8. A Very sad moments for Sierra Leone with no rule of the law. Please release that poor old man. We have issues with human rights record.

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