Policing Covid-19 Christmas… *No gatherings *No processions *No Loud Noise

By Allieu S. Tunkara

Christmas period is here with 15 days more to go. The euphoria of the Christmas eve is low key as Corona Virus struggles to gain a foothold. As Usual, Sierra Leone police has let out few restrictions in a press release dated 9th December, 2020. The restrictions hinge on fending off Covid-19 and secure public order for Sierra Leoneans including those from the diaspora.

“Sierra Leone Police assures the general public of its readiness to ensure that the yuletide is observed in peace, safety and security,” the police release reads in part. The press release contains nine measures which the SLP has vowed to implement throughout the Covid-19 Christmas period.

The press release says it is unlawful for persons to sound or play loud music or noisy instrument or shout or make any loud noise to the annoyance of people in various communities. The release also prohibits street processions or street carnivals without the written permission of the head of the police.

No one is also permitted to fire any gun or throw any firework, rocket or missile to the injury or annoyance of others. 11pm is also set aside as the official hour of operation for saloon bars and other public entertainment venues.

The police, the press release says would be obliged to enforce this closing hour where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the bars/ entertainments’ operations is an annoyance to others within the community. Driving under the influence of drink is also strictly prohibited. The release says it is an offence under the Road Traffic Act.

It is also illegal for one to drive unregistered vehicles and that all vehicles with valid G-plates or Temporal Vehicle Registration should not ply the roads after 6pm.

No vehicle, according to the police, should be used other than the purpose for which it is registered. It is also indicated in the press release that the moratorium on street jogging, the ban on mask devils, secret societies and masquerades still in force. The restrictions issued by the police add to the already existing Covid-19 measures.

Covid-19 measures calls for face masking, social distancing which means no gatherings, hand washing, three passengers permitted in a car, pubs and night clubs operate only on prescribed hours among others. Police restrictions and the existence of Covid-19 measures are a way of cutting the chain of transmission of the deadly virus.

But, the rules and restrictions have come to be seen as roadblocks to the enjoyment of the pleasures, joy and luxuries Christmas vacations may offer to the people. Arguments from rights activists have shown that the absence of a codified Covid-19 rules and regulations undermines the state of emergency.

Head of a local civil Society organisation (name Withheld) says whenever someone talks about a state of emergency; the Constitution of Sierra Leone is brought into sharp focus. In that constitution he says, a fundamental provision obliges government to come up with written rules and regulations to guide law enforcers in a Covid-19 period.

“In a period of public emergency, the President may make such regulations, and take such measures as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of maintaining and securing peace, order and good government in Sierra Leone,” the CSO officer quoted the Constitution.

He intimated this press that since government proclaimed the state of emergency almost a year ago, no codified rules have been submitted to parliament for vetting. The absence of rules and regulations to guide police and military officers render the people vulnerable to the whims, caprices and vagaries of reasoning of the law enforcers.

“If rules and regulations were made during Ebola period, why not now,” he wonders.

Either rules or no rules, some Freetown residents who spoke to this press indicated that spending Christmas in the provinces could be the best and safest. Many Freetown residents continue to wonder about having Christmas without carnivals, processions and gatherings.

Mr Ibrahim Bangura is a Freetown resident who hails from the provinces. He teaches one of the most renowned secondary schools in Freetown, but he is always inclined to travelling to his home town in Christmas vacations with his wife and children.

The aim is to joy and jolly in carols and social events organised by youth groups and clubs in several towns and communities. Bangura however says this Christmas is a different one considering the restrictions issued by the police and government.

He sees the restrictions as a trap to get people into police nets, and he is not ready to fall victim. “I prefer to stay alone with my family and celebrate the Christmas in a low key to having a police case in quite a difficult moment,” he says.

Bangura made reference to the curfew days at the peak of Covid-19 when police officers mounted roadblocks and check-points in various parts of the city to ensure compliance with Covid-19 measures.  At that time, he says, several people were arrested, handcuffed and humiliated before taken to the police stations.

Some were detained in police cells and at the complaints offices and would be released on bail to report later.

Some who are not lucky were tortured by the police and left to go home. No redress mechanism exists as the courts would not venture to look into issues of human rights abuse as they emanate from the nation’s highest office.

Bangura hopes that he would be free from all those worries if he stays home. Bangura seems to be among the few who hesitate travelling upcountry for this year’s Christmas.

But, others still leave the city for the provinces. At the Shell Lorry Park in eastern Freetown, dozens of passengers converge there to travel to various parts of the country.

Some who spoke to this press indicated that they want to escape the tight control in the city of Freetown to elsewhere where they hope to enjoy a merry Christmas, a Christmas devoid of police harassment and intimidation.  Some youths however seem not ready to comply with the restrictions noting that police restrictions are not commensurate to Covid-19 prevalence rate.

They told this press that they are determined to enjoy the Christmas in the face of police restrictions. The police spokesman, Superintendent Ibrahim Kamara says in the press release that no one would be allowed to flout rules contained in the press release.

Apart from the police press release, sources also told this press that operational orders have been drawn to police the Covid-19 Christmas. The operational orders have been cascaded to various police command units in the country regarding how they should police the communities, and ensure high rate compliance.

Regional police and Local Unit commanders have been briefed on how to ensure that the Christmas is devoid of major incidents.

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