April 22, 2015 By Alusine Sesay
Two rights organizations in Sierra Leone – AdvocAid and Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) – have called on President Ernest Bai Koroma to order the release of 11 men who were arrested in Koidu, Kono district, following a reported riot that took place in the township in October 2014 over a suspected Ebola patient.
“We therefore call on the President to order the immediate release of all the other detainees, given that the purported reason for their arrest, the spike in Ebola cases in Kono, is no longer relevant,” the groups said in a joint statement released 20 April.
They added that: “Should the President fail to do so, we call on the acting Chief Justice to constitute an independent tribunal to review the legality of their detention. Sierra Leone’s Constitution should not be ignored.”
The rights groups said they acknowledge President Koroma’s decision to order the release of two women who had been arrested and detained together with the 11 men, following an “Executive Order” invoked under the State of Emergency promulgated in August last year.
“We are of course delighted that these two women have been released after almost 6 months detention without charge. They are relieved after their ordeal and looking forward to returning to their families and children,” said Simitie Lavaly, Executive Director of AdvocAid. “However, we are disappointed that due process was not followed and their detention was not legally reviewed as provided by the Constitution. If there was sufficient evidence, they should have been charged to court and had a court determine their guilt. If this was done, perhaps they would have been released much sooner.”
However, the groups noted with grave concern the continued detention without trial of 11 youths from the diamondiferous district.
They said the men were being detained without charge and that there were no files or documentation to support their detention, while the police have declined to investigate the matter because they were detained under an Executive Order.
The human rights organizations said they had raised the issue in January 2014 by writing to President Koroma requesting their release or confirmation of refusal to release.
“We also wrote to the acting Chief Justice requesting that an independent tribunal be constituted to review the continued detention which is the safeguard provided in Sierra Leone’s Constitution. However, despite these interventions, the procedural safeguards were not implemented,” they noted.
“We are particularly concerned because the due process in this matter has not been complied with under the Constitution of Sierra Leone. We believe that the rights of these people have been violated when they were arrested and that neither the President nor the Judiciary has taken any steps to comply with the provisions set out under section 29 subsection 17 of the Constitution. Furthermore, 11 citizens of Sierra Leone remain in custody for close to six months without recourse to a court of law,” said Ms. Lavaly.
The groups contended that to release the women while the men continue being detained was discriminatory as they all enjoy equal rights under the constitution.
“So if these men and women were arrested to ensure that Ebola health workers were not impeded in their work to defeat the virus, why then are the men still in custody?” queried Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director of CARL.
Meanwhile, the 11 men were yesterday arraigned at a Freetown magistrate court on five counts of conspiracy to commit a felony, obstruction, riotous conduct, disorderly behaviour and malicious damage.