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REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE: Ebola regulations and other laws must not be used to curtail freedom of expression and assembly

13 May 2015
[International Secretariat]
Region: REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE
Topic:

Sierra Leone should stop using emergency regulations brought in to combat Ebola as a pretext to restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said today.

The call comes following an increase in arrests of opposition members, bans on peaceful protests and an unwillingness to tolerate dissent that has heightened following the removal of former Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana on 18 March. Even though cases of Ebola have sharply reduced in Sierra Leone, State of Emergency measures have been increasingly used alongside other laws to stifle criticism, some of which are thought to be linked to the removal of the Vice President.

On Sierra Leone’s Independence Day, 27 April, 15 members of the main opposition party, Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and a Senior Officer from the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, were arrested in Kenema (East) and are currently on trial. There are concerns about excessive use of force by the police with several people injured. A march organised by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists on Independence Day in Freetown was also banned. Eight days earlier, 10 people were arrested for protesting outside the US Embassy, while in March a meeting of the Bar Association was broken up. In contrast, assemblies and events held by the governing party have been allowed.

In November 2014 a journalist was detained for 11 days for criticising the Ebola response, and in April 2015 eight people from Kono were detained for six months without charge following disorder linked to a suspected Ebola case. Last month a man was charged with insulting the President after having forwarded a Whatsapp message he did not author. In all of the cases, apart from the latter, State of Emergency powers were cited as reasons for police action.

Amnesty International calls on the government of Sierra Leone to urgently review the State of Emergency provisions and to ensure that everyone can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly in conformity with international and regional human rights law. The organization also calls for an independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of excessive use of police force in Kenema on Independence Day.

Background

Sierra Leone has been grappling with the Ebola epidemic for the past year which has claimed over 3,800 lives. The President declared a State of Emergency in July 2014 and passed the Public Emergency Regulations 2014. By-Laws for the Prevention of Ebola and Other Diseases were also passed by the Ministry of Local Government, including a ban on public gatherings. This was aimed at enabling the government and its partners to more robustly deal with the Ebola outbreak.

In a context of the decreasing Ebola epidemic, some concerns over increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have emerged. The Vice President, Sam-Sumana, was expelled on 6 March 2015 from the All People’s Congress (APC), the political party currently in power, whilst he Sam-Sumana was in self-enforced Ebola quarantine. The President sacked him on 18 March and appointed a new Vice President. Sam-Sumana has petitioned the Supreme Court to block his replacement from carrying out his duties pending a final ruling on the legality of his dismissal. The court has still not made a decision but a wave of protests followed, particularly in the diaspora, raising concerns about the constitutionality of this action and perceived mismanagement of Ebola funds.

4 May 2015
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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