Excessive Force by Sierra Leone Police and Unlawful Harassment and Detention of Opposition Members Continue in the Run-Up to National Elections
Dr. Lawrence A. Sandi, Chairman
Desmond Pessima, Publicity Secretary
Immediate Release– WASHINGTON, DC, USA –November 16, 2017 – The Sierra Leone People’s Party North America Region (SLPPNA) wishes to add its voice to those that have already strongly condemned the dastardly act of officers of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), who once again, on November 6th, used excessive force against members of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) at the party’s National Headquarters in the country’s capital, Freetown. According to the reports, tear gas was indiscriminately fired into offices in the building and members who were gathered outside were roughed up and physically assaulted.
The leadership of SLPPNA also received confirmed reports that the excessive force used by the SLP resulted in property damage and injuries being sustained by some members. Most troubling, however, are the verified reports we have also received that the police also fired “live bullets” within the party’s premises.
These shocking acts of violence by the SLP officers against unarmed citizens whose safety and liberty they are sworn to safeguard are inexcusable. The fact that such abuses occur at all is unacceptable, but as the country begins preparations for national elections in less than four months, they do not only undermine the faith of citizens in law enforcement authorities to ensure a peaceful election process, they seriously put in doubt the Government’s commitment to a free, fair and violence-free election.
This latest round of unprovoked violence unleashed against members and supporters of the SLPP within the presumably safe confines of the party’s premises is another reminder of the long list of politically charged acts of violence, intimidation, and unlawful arrests and detentions that have been perpetrated against the SLPP under the watch of the ruling All People’s Congress party (APC). It is no surprise therefore that in the wake of these acts of violence, agents of the Government orchestrated the arrest and detention of the SLPP’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lahai Lawrence Leema, on an allegation that is dubious at best. Moreover, serious questions have been raised about the impartiality of the judicial system given the harsh treatment of Mr. Leema, including the refusal of bail and remand to prison, when bail on similar and even less serious matters is routine.
The attention of the Sierra Leone public and the international community must once again be drawn to the fact that these acts of violence and harassment against the SLPP by law enforcement agencies, including the SLP and other State agents, threaten the hard-won peace and security our nation has enjoyed for the past fifteen years. Sierra Leoneans can no longer ignore the APC administration’s continued disregard for the principles of good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights, the very conditions that led to our decade of devastating internal conflict.
SLPPNA unequivocally condemns the actions of the SLP and calls on the Government of Ernest Bai Koroma to take immediate steps to demonstrate to our party and the people of Sierra Leone that it is fully committed to safeguarding the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all citizens and ensuring their safety and protection from state-sponsored intimidation and violence. In addition, SLPPNA calls on the Government to proactively ensure that the relevant competent legal authorities honor their duty to guarantee that Mr. Leema or any of our members who have been unjustifiably arrested and detained are afforded the right to a fair and speedy hearing and impartial adjudication of any charges against them.
SLPPNA also calls for the immediate launching of an independent and transparent investigation into the actions of SLP with a view to ensuring the prosecution and punishment of those personally responsible for the unprovoked assault of party members and supporters at the SLPP Headquarters.
SLPPNA, therefore, urges all citizens, regardless of party affiliation, all other political parties, civil society and religious bodies to denounce the egregious conduct of the SLP and call on the Government to take all deliberate steps to ensure that law enforcement agents are reined in and act in accordance with national and internationally accepted norms.
In the same vein, SLPPNA also calls on the international community, particularly ECOWAS nations, the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and the country’s key donors and development partners, including the United States and the United Kingdom, to take note of the ominous warning signs of this latest round of violent attack on the SLPP and the ensuing dubious arrest and maltreatment of the National Publicity Secretary. We urge them to be proactively engaged in the outcome of these related matters.