Government of Sierra Leone is expected to answer to allegations of human rights abuse in the ECOWAS Court in Nigeria. The allegations bother on the number of arrests and detention of Sierra Leoneans as well as a number of alleged unlawful dismissals which government has embarked on since it came to power in 2018.
A notable Sierra Leonean, Dr Sylvia Blyden, a former Minister and Publisher of Awareness Times Newspaper, is heading to the ECOWAS Court to seek redress. She accused the government to have abused her fundamental rights when she was police detention battling with a number of allegations.
The ECOWAS Court is expected to determine the extent to which Sylvia Blyden’s rights have been abused by the state. Madam Blyden’s legal team is preparing to file legal papers on behalf of their client.
Other corporate entities as well as the media empire African Young Voices would be sued alongside government. Sylvia Blyden is always critical at the outset of her trial at a magistrate court presided over by Magistrate Hannah Bonnie owing to perceived legal and procedural errors.
In May this year, Dr Sylvia Blyden was picked up at her residence at Cockle Bay in the West of Freetown over allegations of seditious publications. Prior to the repeal of Part-V of the Public Order Act of 1965, the crime of sedition makes one liable to a fine or imprisonment or both if convicted.
But, the law says the offence could be prosecuted not later six months after it is committed, and the prosecution must be subject to the consent of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. Sylvia Blyden started her campaign of criticism against government when police officers failed to inform the reason for her arrest and detention in a police cell where she was held for over ten days.
Her detention runs contrary to a provision in Section 17 of the 1991 constitution which spells out 10 days as the maximum detention period for capital crimes and three days for other offences. The crime of sedition falls within the category of other offences according to recent categorization by judiciary after the promulgation of the Bail Regulations of 2020. The crime was bailable, but the former Minister was denied bail. She spent months behind bars after she was arraigned before a magistrate court in Freetown. She was granted bail after months in detention despite a number of applications for bail.
The appearance of one of the country’s experienced lawyers, Charles Francis Margai before the court made Sylvia to breathe a sigh of relief. Her bail was later rescinded, and again taken behind bars where she spent a couple of weeks before she was again released. After months of controversies in the courts, the state through the Attorney-General’s Office entered a Nolle Prosequi, a Latin phrase that means all charges against Sylvia Blyden have been dropped.
The withdrawal of charges against the Awareness Times Publisher was directly linked to the repeal of Part-V of POA by his Excellency, President Julius Maada Bio.
A clemency without compensation did not go down well with Madam Blyden who alleged that there was an affront on her dignity. In open court, Sylvia alleged that her womanhood was invaded while in police custody upon order of a senior police officer, Superintendent MK Allieu.
Former Attorney-General, Dr Priscillia Schwartz who was sacked for an apparent incompetence supervised the prosecution of Sylvia Blyden. Sylvia Blyden’s case is not the only one that awaits government in the ECOWAS Court.
A number of Sierra Leoneans have also expressed willingness to sue the Government of President Julius Maada Bio to court for alleged gross abuse of their economic rights through unlawful dismissals.
The ‘New Direction’ Government, records show, is on record to have allegedly illegally dismissed quite a good number of public and civil servants without recourse to a proper judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative system.
Quite recently, over 300 police officers have gone for months without salaries owing to what government referred to as inconsistencies in their personal records. The inconsistencies, officials said, were discovered after a verification exercise of civil and public servants was undertaken by the country’s National Civil Registration Authority.
The aim of the exercise, Government said, was to know the exact number of government workers in the civil and public service and to stop financial leakages.
Effort was never taken to investigate further what led to the inconsistencies.
In a related development, very senior police officers were also allegedly illegally dismissed from work without wrong doings. Former Deputy Inspector-General (DIG), Dr Al-Shek Kamara was the first to incur the wrath of the ‘New Direction’ Government when he was allegedly arbitrarily removed from the force.
Reason for his removal was never properly explained by the state.
His security details were immediately withdrawn from him following his dismissal, and his personal safety was constantly under threat. He fled for his life, and sought solace in the UK where he currently sojourns.
The sacked DIG was replaced by former DIG Foday Daboh who was also similarly forcefully retired from the police service months after he was appointed.
Assistant-Inspectors-General of Police, Kalia Sesay, Karrow Kamara and others were also asked to lay down police tools in May this year without proper and sufficient reason. AIG Karrow Kamara lost the favour of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party, formerly in opposition, while he was in due execution of his police duties in the eastern Regional Headquarters of Kenema.
Mr Kamara was highly commended following his deployment in that part of the country as brutal crimes of armed robberies, burglaries; murders among others were reduced to an appreciable level.
The commendation Mr Kamara received from the SLPP heartland was not destined to last long as a number of unsubstantiated allegations were made against him. Apart from the number of dismissals in the police agency, workers in some public sector workers were also not spared.
Over a hundred workers at State House were also relieved of their duties without any ex-gratia paid to them.
The State House employees were employed by the former government, and have served for years. The unlawful dismissals were also taken to the Office of Diaspora Affairs (ODA), an institution set up to bring home talented Sierra Leoneans whose skills can be harnessed for national development.
Services of ODA workers were also forcefully terminated when the office was shut down owing to what government referred to as management and functional review of the institution.
The office has been transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, but without the former ODA workers. They have been rendered jobless without going through the proper procedure.
The Sledge hammer also descended on workers of the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) without just cause. The workers have also been jolted out of their comfort zones and their families.
Sackings were also implemented at Statistics Sierra Leone, an institution headed by the acting Vice Chancellor of Njala University, Professor Osman Sankoh.
Lately, the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration has come under the spotlight for its waves of dismissals of its employees.
As a result of the sackings, the sacked workers have made it clear that they are considering lawsuits against the Government of President Julius Maada Bio.
Government has always defended its action saying those dismissed were properly employed in the public service of Sierra Leone.