"You are warned": police threaten the public on discussing governance issues in the media and online

Expression

On 20th July 2018, the Sierra Leone Police issued a statement expressing concern "about the manner in which critical issues bordering on state security and issues of public concern are being discussed/published in the electronic, print and the social media which have the tendency to create insecurity, instability and fear in the minds of people". The statement further singled out two media outlets - FM 98.1 and AYV Television - for making "misleading, disrespectful and inciting statements" on a set of governance issues including the removal of the fuel subsidy, the executive orders of President Julius Maada Bio, the report of the Governance Transition Team among others. 

The statement ended with a threat to members of the public:

"The public is advised to desist from these acts as they are against the Public Order Act of 1965, violators would be expeditiously made amenable to the law. Nobody is above the law. You have been warned."

The statement was heavily criticised as an attempt to stifle freedom of expression. The Sierra Leone Bar Association stated in its press release on 23rd July: 

"The Association is of the strong conviction that issues of national importance must be opened to debate and discussions by all citizens and there should be no attempt to impinge on lawful and reasonable criticisms or lawful dissenting opinions or comments. Unsubstantiated 'tension, chaos and instability’ must not be used as pretext to muzzle free speech and expressions."

Peaceful Assembly

On 17th July 2018, as President Bio marked his first 100 days in office, Sierra Leoneans took to the streets in Freetown to protest the recent increase in fuel prices due to the government's removal of fuel subsidies. Police officers arrested activist Edmond Abu during the protest and took him to the Criminal Investigation Unit where he was questioned before being released. 

In its new report "A Force for Good? Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly and Impunity for Excessive Use of Force used by the Sierra Leone Police", Amnesty International outline how authorities in Sierra Leone have restricted the right to peaceful assembly through refusal of permission, especially for opposition or critical civil society protests, and through the use of excessive force. Impunity for the excessive use of force by police, which has led to deaths and injuries of protesters, is pervasive. According to the report, at least 9 people were killed and 80 people injured during protests in the past 10 years.