Police arrest 9 U.S. Embassy protesters


April 21, 2015 By Mohamed Massaquoi

The protesters displaying placards in front of the U.S. Embassy in Freetown
The protesters displaying placards in front of the U.S. Embassy in Freetown

Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Chief Superintendent Ibrahim ‘Size-Man’ Koroma, yesterday confirmed the arrest and detention of nine people who took part in the U.S. Embassy demonstration last Thursday, 16 April.

“We arrested people for unlawful assembly at the U.S. Embassy; you know very well that there is State of Emergency in the country. But our investigations still continue and we have more people on our list to be arrested,” Koroma said.

Alfred Fobie, Brima Kallon, Amos Tongu-Fullah, Mariama Bah, Fatmata Samba, Marie Sallah, Raymond Bangura, Massah Matturi and Hannette Hawa Mansaray, all of Freetown, are said to have been arrested on Saturday, 18 April at their respective homes, two days after the protest.

The protesters, numbering approximately 100, made their way to the U.S. Embassy to demonstrate against President Ernest Bai Koroma’s sacking of the democratically elected Vice President, Alhaji Chief Samuel Sam-Sumana, and government’s alleged mismanagement of Ebola funds.

Holding placards and denouncing the president’s act as “unconstitutional”, the protesters delivered a letter to U.S. Embassy officials, which they say highlights violations of the country’s constitution and calls for the Supreme Court to expedite the hearing and determination of the suit.

While police later arrived at the scene, no arrests were made, although the names and addresses of the leaders of the protest, described as very peaceful, were reportedly taken. Also, pictures of the protest went viral on social media as Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad praised the bravery and courage of the protesters.

Prior to the protest last week, Inspector General of Police Francis Munu had issued a statement banning all public demonstrations and reminding citizens that public gathering of 10 and more people was banned.

The opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party had threatened to demonstrate and embark on civil disobedience as part of a six-point resolution party leaders vowed to implement until and unless the president reverses his controversial action.

However, SLPP secretary-general Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie had denied the party was responsible for the protest at the U.S. Embassy, although some of their Young Generation members reportedly played a prominent role in the protest.

Benedict Joseph Pratt, Public Relations Officer of the National Steering Committee Grassroots SLPP, told Concord Times their leader was harassed by police officers at his residence, although he evaded arrest.

“We have seen the systematic attack by the police on peaceful Sierra Leoneans, this is not the time for police brutality, and we are tired of using the security apparatus against the opposition by the government,” he said.

Also, acting National Communication Coordinator for the opposition party, Kalilu Totangi, has condemned the arrest of the nine protesters whom he said are their supporters, and called for their immediate and unconditionally release.

He said the arrest of their supporters was ordered “from above” and indicates a systematic plot by the government to unnecessarily crackdown on the opposition, adding that the ruling All Peoples Congress had organized numerous public gatherings unrelated to Ebola sensitisation.

“The police were here when people came from Kono to demonstrate against VP Sumana; just on Sunday [19 April], a group of people were at the Lungi international airport to welcome President Koroma from the U.S., they were dancing and singing. There was also another public meeting around Bottom Mango very close to the Wilberforce Military Barrack were people came out in their numbers to welcome the president,” Totangi said.

He added: “It is absolutely unfortunate that nine of our supporters have been arrested by the police for holding a peaceful protest at the United States Embassy. This is unacceptable, we are in a democratic state and we expect our leaders to maintain democratic values. As SLPP members, we view this arrest as arbitrary and we condemn the action by the police.”

Meanwhile, it is not immediately known if the nine will be charged to court.

Some nine individuals are still being held in detention without trial months after they were arrested in Kono for allegedly breaching public emergency regulations declared by the president last August as part of measures to contain and eradicate the Ebola virus, although two women in the group were released last week following calls for their release or trial by rights groups.