Cybercrime Bill adopted amid concerns

Sierra Leone abolishes the death penalty

On 23rd July 2021, Sierra Leone approved the Bill abolishing the death penalty in the country. The 1991 Constitution prescribes the death penalty in cases of murder, aggravated robbery and mutiny, and courts handed down 39 death sentences last year, but in practice there has been a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in the country since 1998.

Sierra Leone is the 23rd African country to abolish the death penalty, following Malawi, whose Supreme Court of Appeals ruled capital punishment as unconstitutional in April 2021 and Chad in April 2020.

Expression

Cybercrime Bill adopted

On 23rd June 2021, Sierra Leone’s Parliament adopted the Cybercrime Bill. Meant to tackle cybercrime and provide security in the digital world, concerns have been raised on certain provisions of the law. In statements prior to the Bill’s adoption, CSOs Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), Access Now and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) highlighted the following concerns, among others:

  • Sweeping powers given to the executive branch without the necessary checks and balances. For example, section 2 of the Bill indicates that the President, in an optional consultation with the relevant Minister, can institute frameworks that have an effect on the subject of the law.
  • Broad powers for police to search and seize stored computer data pursuant to a warrant issued by a judge: under section 5, no provisions are foreseen for the protection of journalists or other professionals, such as lawyers, from being compelled to disclose confidential information. Additionally, section 5(4) allows police to extend their search to other computer systems if they believe the data is captured in those systems, without the need to secure another warrant issued by a judge.
  • Punishments for criminal offences set forth in the Bill are left to the discretion of the Minister of Information, who can issue subsidiary legislation to address prison terms and fines.
  • Sierra Leone does not have a law that protects data and personal information nor a data protection authority to safeguard personal information and data.