Press Release from AdvocAid and CARL
Freetown, 20th April, 2015
AdvocAid and Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) acknowledge the decision of President Ernest Bai Koroma on Sunday 12 April 2015 to order the release of the two remaining women who were arrested in Kono in relation to a reported riot that took place in Kono in October 2014 over a suspected Ebola patient. The women were part of a group of people detained after an Executive Order was issued by President Koroma using his powers under the State of Emergency on 24 October 2014. Some of those arrested on the ‘executive orders’ were later released, with the two women and six men remaining in custody. We note that the number of men from Kono currently in detention has now increased to 11.
The detainees were detained without charge in Pademba Road and Female Freetown Correctional Centre respectively, some eight hours drive away from their homes. They have no files or documentation to support their detention and the police declined to investigate the matter as they have been detained under an Executive Order.
We raised this issue in January 2014, alongside other local and international organizations. AdvocAid, a legal aid organization representing the detainees, wrote to the President requesting their release or confirmation of refusal to release. We also wrote to the Acting Chief Justice requesting that an independent tribunal be constituted to review the continued detention which is the safeguard provided in Sierra Leone’s Constitution. However, despite these interventions, the procedural safeguards were not implemented.
“We are of course delighted that these 2 women have been released after almost 6 months detention without charge. They are relieved after their ordeal and looking forward to returning to their families and children,” said Simitie Lavaly, Executive Director of AdvocAid.
“However, we are disappointed that due process was not followed and their detention was not legally reviewed as provided by the Constitution. If there was sufficient evidence, they should have been charged to court and had a court determine their guilt. If this was done, perhaps they would have been released much sooner,” commented Ms Lavaly.
In a Press Release dated 12 April 2015, the President is said to have ordered the release of the women because “they were part of a group that defied regulations laid down as part of measures to control the Ebola virus. This led to a spike in the number of Ebola cases in the district… Now that Kono has had more than 45 days without new cases, the President has graciously decided to order the release of the women”.
We are concerned, on the basis of this reasoning, that the remaining men have not also been so released. “So if these men and women were arrested to ensure that Ebola health workers were not impeded in their work to defeat the virus, why then are the men still in custody?”, asks Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director of Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law.
We are particularly concerned because the due process in this matter has not been complied with under the Constitution of Sierra Leone. We believe that the rights of these people have been violated when they were arrested and that neither the President nor the Judiciary has taken any steps to comply with the provisions set out under section 29 subsection 17 of the Constitution. Furthermore, 11 citizens of Sierra Leone remain in custody for close to six months without recourse to a court of law.
Men and women have the same rights. Therefore, to release the women while continuing to hold the rest of the men in custody is discriminatory. We therefore call on the President to order the immediate release of all the other detainees, given that the purported reason for their arrest, the spike in Ebola cases in Kono, is no longer relevant. Should the President fail to do so, we call on the Acting Chief Justice to constitute an independent tribunal to review the legality of their detention. Sierra Leone’s Constitution should not be ignored.