By Alusine Sesay
After spending over six months in detention at the Pademba Road maximum prison, the court martial trial involving 14 soldiers accused of mutiny will start hearing today at the Cockrill military barracks. The trial would last for about sixty sittings days, a statement from the Ministry of Defense and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) said.
There had been numerous calls from the media and human rights circles for the soldiers to be tried after they were being held incommunicado, without trial for months, accused of plotting to subvert the authority of the state.
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone had written a strongly worded letter to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Franklyn Bai Kargbo, raising grave concern over the continued detention of the alleged mutineers and requested the government to speedily commence their trial.
In his reaction, Mr Kargbo replied that the government had funding constrains to commence the trial, but promised to ensure that the trial would commence soonest.
Also, Executive Director of Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Ibrahim Tommy, while responding to an interview by Concord Times, had urged the government to try the alleged mutineers within a reasonable period of time. He argued that the continued detention of the alleged mutineers without being tried in court constitute a gross violation of human rights.
Meanwhile, according to the release from the Ministry of Defense and the RSLAF, “The long-awaited Court Martial proceedings for the alleged mutiny case at Teko Barracks (Makeni) will commence with pre-trial hearing on Wednesday 2nd April, 2014 (today).” It remains unclear though whether the accused persons will be represented by legal practitioners.
If convicted, the men could face the death penalty or maximum years in prison.