Prior police permission needed for joggers on Sierra Leone's streets
Saying the exercise comes "with a hint of menace" and "raining insults," police ban group jogging in Sierra Leone. https://t.co/NCxCOzEI02— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) 28 augustus 2017
On 27th July 2017, a public notice signed by the Inspector General of Police was issued, effectively banning jogging on the streets without prior authorisation. The notice stated that joggers, in large numbers, on the streets represent a: "menace, raining insults, obstructing traffic, pounding on vehicles, playing loud music and snatching property of other members of the public...". The public notice warned "any group of people now found jogging in the street without authorization will be dealt with according to law". Jogging in recreational areas and on the beach is not prohibited under the ban. The decision drew indignation, with accusations of the ban being politically-motivated and stifling freedom of expression ahead of the general elections scheduled for March 2017. Local human rights organisation Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) has appealed to the police to find a balance between freedoms and rights and safeguarding safety and security. CHRDI stated that:
"The Sierra Leone Police should not forget that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, i.e. to both organize and participate in indoor and outdoor peaceful assemblies is a fundamental right, and the freedom of peaceful assembly and association is a cornerstone of democracy; a fundamental freedom".
The Sierra Leone Renaissance Movement, a movement dedicated to creating a new path and enhancing Sierra Leone's future, filed an action in the Supreme Court in April 2017 "to adjudicate, clarify and explain the parameters within which the police can limit citizens’ rights to protest", as the office of the Inspector General of Police is perceived as being selective as to which group(s) are granted permission to exercise their rights to protest.
In a separate incident on 24th March, one person was killed and several others were injured during a protest by students of the University of Njala, in the city of Bo in southeastern Sierra Leone. Several students were also arrested.The protest denounced what the students called the “government’s lack of interest” in solving a strike by lecturers which has held up their studies since November 2016. Police officers used tear gas to disperse the students, and one student died after being hit by live ammunition. Francis Munu, Inspector General of Police, announced that a "thorough investigation into the incident will be conducted".
On 7th April 2017, human rights organisation Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) stated that freedom of expression, assembly and accountability continue to be threatened in Sierra Leone. CHRDI asserts that it has evidence that "Sierra Leoneans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal”.
In addition, Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) appealed to the government in early May to commemorate international World Press Freedom day and implored it to refrain from shutting down the internet or restricting social media during the general elections, scheduled for 7th March 2018. SLAJ President Kevin Lewis stated to The Citizen:
"We note the growing prominence of citizen journalism, the increasing popularity of social media and the dangers of fake news. Despite these challenges, which can and should be addressed constructively, we urge this government not to ban social media or shutdown the Internet during elections".
In the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Sierra Leone dropped two places from number 83 to 85, out of a total of 180 countries, with the Index noting the widespread use of defamation charges as a mechanism to gag the media and critical voices.
World Press Freedom Day, May 3, commemorations with Sierra Leone Association of Journalists. pic.twitter.com/hI7NVkzOoP— Stephen Douglas (@redpageletters) 3 mei 2017
On 1st June 2017, a leader of the opposition party Alliance Democratic Party (ADP) Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray was arrested on charges of allegedly possessing a dangerous weapon, in what ADP supporters have called a politically-motivated arrest aimed at intimidating opposition candidates ahead of the March 2018 general elections. He was later released on bail on 7th June.
On 27th February 2017, the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) denounced the harassment of anti-corruption activist and Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International, Abdul Fatoma, following Fatoma's allegations of corruption within the parliament. The harassment included interrogation, overnight detention and the confiscation of Fatoma's passport, without issuing formal charges. He received his passport back at the end of March, according to Amnesty International.