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After almost 14 weeks incommunicado…

Wives of detained military officers express grave concern

By Mohamed Massaquoi

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Wives of six junior ranked military officers of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) have raised grave concern over the continuous detention of the officers without formally being charged in any court for trial.

The women, who preferred their identifies undisclosed for security reasons, told Concord Times that their husbands have been held incommunicado since they were arrested in August; a development they referred to as unfortunate and a gross abuse and violation of their fundamental human rights, guaranteed by both the country’s constitution and regional and global instruments.

“We cannot speak out publicly because the matter is very sensitive and it has to do with the military and the government, but we consider the arrest of our husbands as a gross violation of their fundamental rights. We have made several attempts to get access to them and discuss burning family issues but all have been fruitless endeavours,” the women lamented.

They further revealed that the arrest of their spouses, who are breed winners, has had adverse negative impact on their various families.

“Our children are suffering, some of them have been driven out of school for school fees. This is unacceptable because our husbands still continue to suffer for no good reason. We are calling on the international community, humanitarian organizations, civil society and the media to help us advocate for the release of our husbands,” they appealed.

It could be recalled that fourteen non-commissioned military officers were arrested at Teko Barracks in Makeni and brought to Freetown on 17 August, amid wide public speculation that they were plotting to overthrow the current government.

The arrests were followed by the subsequent interrogation and brief detention of the Mayor of Bo, Harold Tucker, who was later told to report at the headquarters of the Criminal Investigations Department in Freetown for further investigations. The police, however, admitted he was the wrong man and allowed him to return to Bo, where he received a hero’s welcome by supporters of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party who deemed the incident as a calculated ploy by the ruling government to incriminate their leaders in the alleged plot.

After a month of joint investigations by the military intelligence branch and military police on the one hand, and the Criminal Investigations Department on the other hand, the government announced that six out of the fourteen officers would be charged to court.

The six were identified as: Private Tamba Sheku, 18177830; Private Momoh Kargbo, 18180259; Private Gbessay Koroma, 18178603; Private Alpha Mansaray, 18182001; Warrant Officer II Frederick Wallace-Johnson; and Private Mustapha Quee, 18180146.

A press release issued on 12 September 2013 by the Office of the Government Spokesman noted that: “The investigation into these allegations was intelligence-driven. An investigative team comprising highly-trained and experienced detectives together with an intelligence cell was set up for the purpose. The investigations have now reached a point where sufficient and credible evidence has been obtained to enable six of the suspects to be charged to court.”

The release had further stated that the men were at an advanced stage of planning the “mutiny” but that they were deterred by lack of access to a stockpile of arms and ammunition.

“The plot by the non-commissioned officers was planned to have taken place on the 10th of August, 2013 but was postponed due to their inability to access arms and ammunition as expected,” the ministry of information press release had alleged.

However, since 12 September, the six have remained in detention at an undisclosed location with charges yet to be brought against them by the State prosecutors. It is unclear whether the men have had access to lawyers.

Attorney-General and Minister Justice, Franklyn Bai Kargbo was quoted by local newspaper ‘Political’ in October to have said that the men would be tried at a Court Martial that was due to be empanelled.

“I can confirm that we received the file from the investigators towards the end of last week and we are reviewing it and at the same time based on the extracts of evidence that we have viewed so far we are in the process of making preparations to set up a court martial,” the newspaper quoted the Attorney-General to have said.

Yet, no Court Martial has been empanelled weeks after the principal legal adviser to the government promised one would be set up, and almost fourteen weeks after the men were arrested in the president’s home town.

Meanwhile, the Director of Communications and Public Relations in the Ministry of Defence, Colonel Michael Mohamed Samura, said the Law Officers Department has not proffered  charges against the detained army officers, adding that they do not want to rush with the matter without proper documentation as the matter has to do with the lives of the said officers.

“Everything about the matter is with the Law Officers Department; we are yet to receive any information from them,” he said, in a desperate attempt to absolve the military of any blame.