September 9, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) yesterday (8 September) said in a statement that the acquittal of Mahmoud Tarawalie, former deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology, was a missed “opportunity for the court to make a strong statement on violence against women and girls”.
Mr. Tarawalie was sacked in September 2013 after he was arrested for allegation of rape by a young female university student. He was subsequently released on bail, and charged with rape, wounding with intent, wounding, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
The magistrate court adjudged he had a case to answer and committed the matter to the High Court, presided over by Justice Abdulai Charm. The learned trial judge though acquitted him on 3 September on the charge of rape, while the state failed to pursue the other charges, although the doctor’s report indicated that the lady had “a deep cut with swelling on the lower lip; abrasion from a finger mark on the right side of the face by the eye; redness of the right eye, etc.”
According to CARL, whose monitors followed the case to conclusion, the rights of the complainant were not fully respected during the trial, especially at the magistrate court, where her identity was revealed as she was allowed to testify in open court, contrary to provisions in the Sexual Offences Act 2012.
“CARL was particularly alarmed by the fact that no measures were applied by the court to ensure that the alleged victim was prevented from seeing the accused, and that her testimony was occasionally interrupted by loud murmuring from the gallery. This was not only a violation of the law, but it also compromised the security and safety of the alleged victim. But for the swift intervention of the police, the alleged victim could have been lynched by persons who were apparently supporters of the accused,” said the statement.
The accountability group says they were further appalled that some sections of the press violated Section 41 of the Sexual Offences Act 2012 by revealing the identity of the complainant, while “the Law Officers Department, whose responsibility it is to investigate such alleged violations, was remiss in its failure to hold the perpetrators accountable”, adding that the latter should launch an investigation into the alleged violation.
The Independent Media Commission was also not spared criticism for having “glaringly failed to investigate whether such publications [by the unnamed newspapers] amounted to a breach of the Media Code of Ethics”.
The statement also criticises the police for the way and manner in which they handled the investigation. It notes that a police officer who had testified for the prosecution at the magistrate court bizarrely departed from his testimony while testifying at the High Court. CARL says an Exhibit Clerk of the Sierra Leone Police also failed to mark the various exhibits he had received and collected from the alleged crime scene, “a failure which could have undermined the pursuit of justice”.
The statement says the judge acquitted the accused on the offence of rape by primarily relying on expert evidence by Dr. Matilda King, who examined the alleged rape victim at the Rainbow Centre, and concluded that force was not used to gain penetration. However, it notes the verdict underscored that the same medical doctor alleged the victim had “a deep cut with swelling on the lower lip; abrasion from a finger mark on the right side of the face by the eye; redness of the right eye, etc.”
“Although the judge relied primarily on the report and opinion of the medical doctor in concluding that the alleged victim was not raped, it is curious that the judge acquitted the accused on the count of assault even though the same medical report showed that the alleged victim had “a deep cut with swelling on the lower lip; abrasion from a finger mark on the right side of the face by the eye; redness of the right eye, etc,” the statement adds. “This was an opportunity for the court to make a strong statement on violence against women and girls. Sadly it was not taken, even though the judge could have inferred the assault from the medical examination report before him.”
Meanwhile, the statement warns that “ending violence of all forms against women and girls requires the collective efforts of state and non-state actors, including justice institutions”.
It concludes that, “In light of the increasing spate of violence against women, CARL urges law enforcement and justice officers to step up their efforts at combating violence, not only by improving the quality of the structures and institutions, but by being proactive in combating all forms of violence against women and girls.”