General elections: use of excessive force against opposition gathering; journalists attacked
General elections: President Julius Maaba Bio re-elected
On 24th June 2023, 3.4 million Sierra Leoneans headed to the polls in presidential, parliamentary and local elections amid economic and political tensions, high youth unemployment, widespread poverty, gender inequality and political mistrust. The Electoral Commission announced a few days later that incumbent President Julius Maaba Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) had won the presidential election with 56.17 percent of the votes, thereby narrowly avoiding a second run-off round.
Main opposition party All People’s Congress (APC), with its presidential candidate Samura Kamara, rejected the electoral results, saying they are “not credible”, citing irregularities and a lack of transparency. Electoral observers also have raised concerns, in particular over the lack of transparency in the tabulation process while calling stakeholders to hold a dialogue to resolve electoral disputes.
Before and after the vote, violent incidents took place. On 21st June 2023, one person was killed when APC supporters gathered around the political party’s headquarters in Freetown. The day after the elections, people gathered again at APC headquarters for a post-election press conference when the security forces reportedly surrounded the building and fired tear gas and live ammunition into the crowd, killing at least one person (see under Assembly).
Elections: use of excessive force against opposition gatherings
On 25th June 2023, the day after the elections, one person – a nurse and party volunteer - was found severely wounded after security forces reportedly surrounded the APC headquarters in Freetown and fired tear gas and live ammunition during a post-election press conference organised by the opposition party. Opposition members and supporters gathered at the headquarters in anticipation of the announcement of the electoral results, which APC claimed they had won. The woman, Hawa Dumbuya, died of her injuries. APC presidential candidate Samura Kamara alleged on X, formerly Twitter, that he was “barricaded in my APC party headquarters during my live press conference. Live bullets and tear gas were fired at my offices by government forces.”
In a statement, police said that APC supporters had been parading through the streets, claiming they had won the elections despite the absence of official results, and that tear gas canisters were fired as the APC supporters were ‘disturbing’ other people. Police further denied having fired live ammunition.
Prior to the elections, on 21st June 2023, one person had already allegedly been killed at the APC headquarters, according to the opposition. APC had asked its supporters and members to convene at the headquarters to demand that the Chief Electoral Commissioner step down, when police reportedly tried to disperse them, including through the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
Journalists threatened, physically attacked by political party supporters
At least two journalists were subjected to physical attacks by APC supporters ahead of the June general elections. According to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), APC supporters harassed and threatened BBC correspondent Umaru Fofana when he attended an APC media event at a hotel in Freetown on 14th June 2023, to which he was invited. The political supporters uttered offensive remarks at him when he was leaving the event, threatened him physically and pursued him to the car park.
On 28th March 2023, seven supporters of a representative of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) beat journalist for Radio Fountain for Peace, Alie Melvin Tokowa, for a period of 15 minutes while he was covering an event in the town of Moyamba, 160 km east of the capital Freetown. The journalist reportedly lost consciousness and had to be transported to a hospital in Freetown.