Amnesty International has accused the Sierra Leone Police of using excessive force during and after last August’s deadly riots in Freetown and some parts of the Northern Region of the country.
In a report released on Monday 20 March 2023, the London-based human rights group called for “impartial and transparent investigations” into the events which saw six police officers and 27 civilians killed.
“Amnesty International collected testimonies alleging excessive use of force by Sierra Leonean security forces to crack down on protests which turned violent in Freetown, Makeni, and Kamakwie in August 2022, in which six police officers and more than 20 protesters and bystanders were killed, including at least two women. Yet, it took more than two months for the State to release the non-police bodies for their burial,” Amnesty International stated, after having investigated the event.
According to Amnesty International, their delegates conducted interviews with witnesses, victims’ families, government officials, members of the police, and civil society organizations in Freetown and Makeni in December 2022.
Among the testimonies was a man who witnessed the events in Freetown and told Amnesty International how he discovered the body of his sister: “The police started to shoot randomly into the crowd. I was standing, I ran down to my house […] Around 10am my younger sister who lives with the one who died came running and told me our sister had been killed […] The first shot was on the left arm. The second one close to her collar bone […] She was bleeding a lot from the neck. There was blood everywhere.” He explained that his sister was not part of the protest and was in her house when she was shot.
Another was the father of a 22-year-old woman who “was allegedly shot by security forces” despite the fact “she went to sell vegetable leaves” and wasn’t participating in the demonstration.
One youth told Amnesty he wasn’t aware of the curfew and was chatting with friends when police arrived. “They were shouting. They did not say anything to us. We started running away — I was shot in my right arm,” he said.
A member of staff from a hospital in Makeni witnessed on 10 and 11 August a total of 11 people severely injured including two men who had gunshot wounds from the back, a 16-year-old girl who was shot in the pelvic area and a man with a gunshot wound near his left eye.
Amnesty called for those still detained to be able to consult a lawyer before their trial and for “those responsible for unlawful killing, torture and other forms of ill-treatment face justice”.
“Even if facing violent protesters, law enforcement officials should only resort to the use of force when they have exhausted all other peaceful means of achieving their objectives. Any use of force must also be proportionate to the situation they face. In addition, Amnesty International calls on the Special Committee set up to investigate the events to do so promptly and impartially,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
The police arrested 515 people following the August 10 protests, for offences ranging from malicious damage, arson, unlawful procession, riotous conduct, seditious behaviour to murder.
According to testimonies received, some people detained were not able to see their lawyer until their trial and they were convicted solely on the testimony of the arresting officer without any further corroborating evidence, Amnesty stated.
The authorities imposed a curfew during the unrest, which began as peaceful demonstrations by women against the high cost of living in the country. Some demonstrators called for President Bio to resign.
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