16 Kenema protesters charged with 11 counts, denied bail

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April 29, 2015 By Mohamed Massaquoi in Kenema

Principal Magistrate of the Kenema Magistrates Court, Sulaiman Koroma, yesterday denied bail to all 16 accused persons arrested and charged to court by the police in Kenema on Monday for alleged unlawful demonstration.

The accused were charged with 11 counts ranging from conspiracy, incitement, unlawful gathering, to obstruction, amongst others.

Legal representatives for the accused persons, lawyers Abdulai Bangura, Alex Bonapha, Paul Squire and P.I. Bangura, pleaded for bail on the grounds that some of the accused had sustained serious injuries and needed urgent medical attention.

The plea was however turned down by the magistrate.

It could be recalled that the police and some supporters of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in the eastern district headquarter town of Kenema had some altercation following attempts by the police to stop what opposition supporters described as a peaceful protest in their party offices during the country’s 54th independence anniversary celebrations on April 27.

“It all started at about 10:00am on Monday 27th April when members of the SLPP converged at our regional office on Hangha Road to observe the party’s 63rd anniversary,” the SLPP Eastern Region Chairman, Phillip Tondoneh, told Concord Times. “The party was unable to bring more members together to celebrate as a result of the Ebola situation in the country. The regional party officers were preparing to put out a public statement commending those who have contributed towards the strengthening of the party and to comment on some governance challenges currently facing the country when the police stormed our headquarters and started beating up people.”

He added that their intention was not to celebrate but to issue out a statement on the current governance situation in Sierra Leone and also “to honour the founding fathers of our great party”.

“While in the process, a group of supporters mainly youths decided to let their views heard on the current political situation in the country by displaying placards calling for good governance, democracy, constitutionality and freedom for all,” one of the protesters, Brima Sannoh, told Concord Times.

“We want the president to lift the State of Emergency regulations; this is a democratic state and we must be given an opportunity to exercise our rights. The removal of Vice President Sam-Sumana was unconstitutional. The entire protest started peacefully as all our supporters were within the party offices displaying their placards.”

Sannoh said a vehicle loaded with military personnel stormed the party offices and started chasing out members with guns, and ordering those inside the building to step out.

“Soon after that incident, a truck load of police personnel also came to the scene and started firing teargas. Some protesters were arrested,” he said.

An eyewitness, Musa Jalloh, alleged that the police were very violent while arresting SLPP protesters.

“Some of the protesters were beaten with canes, molested and violently dragged out of the SLPP office to the police station,” he claimed. “More than five teargas canisters were fired into the SLPP office. This forced the supporters that were in the building to come out and surrender themselves to the police, including one Junior Fonney.”

While in police cells at the Kenema police station, the Eastern Region Human Rights Commissioner, Hassan Samba Yajah, who was also arrested for alleged incitement and obstruction, complained about police brutality against his person.

He said he was merely responding to a call from a member of the Political Parties Registration Commission to go to the SLPP office where the police were said to have been arresting people.

“Upon my arrival, I saw police personnel beating people. I advised them to take the arrested persons to the police station instead of beating them,” explained Mr. Yajah. “All of use (the arrested persons) entered the police station together, and it was after then that a group of police officers with canes started beating me. I was seriously beaten in the presence of the Regional Police Commander, Alfred Karrow Kamara.”

It was apparent that the police were not happy with comments earlier made on the radio by Yajah. Few hours before the incident at the SLPP office and his subsequent arrest, Yajah had engaged one of the community radio stations in Kenema to talk on a press release his institution, the Human Rights Commission, had earlier issued regarding the State of Emergency, the role of the police and other rights issues.

Meanwhile, Head of Police Media Unit, Inspector Ibrahim Samura, said they are monitoring the situation in Kenema and that the police have succeeded in restoring calm in the township.

The 16 accused persons will again appear in court on Friday 1st May for a continuation of their trial.