Accused plead not guilty, denied bail
By Alusine Sesay
After series of objections by the defense counsel – on the eligibility of Judge Advocate Otto During and the suitability of the rejected President of the Board, Colonel Usman Turay – the court martial yesterday read the charges to the 14 accused persons, subsequent to the swearing in of a new board president, Lieutenant Colonel Bobson Jusu.
The eight count charges range from conspiracy to commit mutiny contrary to law; mutiny contrary to section 37(1)(a) of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone Act No.34 1961; failure to suppress mutiny, contrary to section 38 of the Armed Forces of the Republic Sierra Leone Act No.34 1961; incitement to mutiny, inter alia, were read to the accused persons who all pleaded not guilty to the entire charges.
The accused persons are alleged to have with intent to commit mutiny conspired with others unknown to commit mutiny by unlawfully agreeing to resist and disobey lawful authority.
Citing 79 (32) of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965, lead defense counsel, Julius Nye Cuffie, Esq., applied for bail to be granted the accused persons, noting that the Judge Advocate has the power to use his discretion to grant bail to the accused persons and that they are not a flight risk.
“They are Sierra Leoneans and ordinary residents in Freetown. They have credible Sierra Leoneans that can stand on their behalf. The whole essence of surtee is that they are not at flight risk,” he pleaded, adding that the thirteen non-commissioned officers and one officer will not interfere with prosecution witnesses.
Because the accused had spent several months in detention at the Pademba Road maximum security prison without trial, Cuffie Esq. also cited 17(3) Act No. 6 of the 1991 Constitution which states that an accused must be granted bail if not brought to court within a reasonable period of time.
“No matter what they are being tried for, they are presumed innocent until found guilty. Regardless of whatever charges, they are mere allegations,” he argued. It is a burden on the prosecution to prove them guilty. They have spent eight months at the Pademba Road Maximum Prison despite being innocent,” he said.
He further cited Rule 4 of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone Court Martial Rules which states that an accused shall not be held on arrest for more than 72 consecutive hours without trial.
“Your Worship, Rule 4 has been violated and it is a fundamental human rights issue. The court is not here to persecute the accused but to prosecute them,” he noted, “A bail does not mean that they are free.”
The lead defense counsel again cited Article 11(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, noting that it would sum up to the violation of the above provision should the accused be denied bail.
“Your Worship, I am emphasising that the accused are facing mere allegation. The argument that may be put forward by the prosecution that the accused are at flight risk flies in the face,” he again submitted.
However, the prosecution, led by Gerald Soyei, Esq., vehemently objected to bail on the grounds that all count charges are grave offenses, and that if granted bail the accused would abscond from the proceedings and interfere with prosecution witnesses.
He called on the Judge Advocate to consider the cost of tracing the accused should the accused escape if granted bail.
“I am submitting that the circumstances are not yet ripe for you to grant them bail. Freedom of movement should be subject to the safety of society and if granted bail the society will not be safe,” he opined, and added “In the light of the public safety in particular, bail should be refused.”
In his ruling, Judge Advocate Otto During ruled that: “In the interest of public safety and in the interest of the accused safety, bail is refused,” on reason of “the seriousness of the alleged crime”.
The trial continues on Wednesday, 16 April, 2014.