Dozens of protesters arrested in women's 'Black Monday' protest against high fuel prices and cost of living

Members of security forces stand guard during a protest in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in April 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland

Peaceful Assembly

In the past few months, several protests have taken place in Sierra Leone over the increasing cost in fuel prices and overall economic hardship in the country. 

On 4th July 2022, dozens of protesters were arrested during a women's protest in Freetown, dubbed as the 'Black Monday' protests. According to police, protests also took place in Lungi, Port Loko, Mile 91 and Magburaka. Hundreds of women took to the streets to protest the high cost of living, economic hardship, and economic policies in the country. Prices for fuel and basic goods have increased sharply in Sierra Leone in the past few months as a result of the global crisis, while inflation stood at 17.5 percent in February 2022, creating economic hardships for many citizens. 

Prior to the Black Monday protests, on 2nd July 2022, Sierra Leone Police issued a press release stating that no permit for the protests had been granted, and warned anyone participating in or organising a protest that day would be in violation of the Public Order Act 1965, which requires a permit for street protests. 

The day before the protest, on 3rd July 2022, opposition politician, chairperson of the opposition Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP), and founder and leader of the Unity Party, Femi Cladius Cole, was arrested after her residence was reportedly surrounded by security officers. Another opposition politician, Dennis Bright, was detained on the same day. Both were accused of inciting unlawful street protests and were released after spending four nights in detention at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). 

In a press release on 6th July 2022, the Sierra Leone Police said they had released 57 protesters without charge, as it was their first offence, while also releasing Cole and Bright, but both are to report to the CID "until otherwise rescinded or any other determination that could be made". 

On 28th March 2022, commercial transport operators (Poda Poda drivers, bus and taxi drivers) embarked on a sit-in strike due to the constraints they experience in getting fuel, such as low supplies and overcharging of fuel. The sit-in strike resulted in roadblocks in some localities, with some reporting the use of tear gas to disperse those blocking roads. 

Expression

Journalist detained for six days

Journalist Sorie Saio Sesay, who works for Okentuhun Radio FM's news programme 'Latest Happening', was detained on 26th May 2022 in Kamakwie, a town in the North West Province of Sierra Leone. According to the Northern Region section of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Sesay was arrested on accusations of publishing false information on social media, specifically an article on an alleged incident between the police and commercial bike riders in Makeni city. The journalist claims he had erroneously forwarded a user's comment  from one WhatsApp group, affiliated with Calabash Newspaperto the Latest Happening WhatsApp group, which Sesay runs. After two days, Sesay was transferred from Makeni to Freetown, where he was held for another four days. After his release, facilitated by the SLAJ, Sesay was mandated to stay in Freetown until 6th June 2022, when he was allowed to return to Kamakwie and present himself every day to the police's cybercrime unit. National police spokesperson Brima Kamara told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in June 2022 that investigations were ongoing. The journalist's phone was confiscated during his arrest and was not returned to him. 

Media outlet harassed; publisher receives death threats

According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), authorities in Sierra Leone have harassed the media online outlet Africanist Press, and its US-based publisher, Chernoh Alpha Bah, who has received death threats and other threats to his social media. On 4th May 2022, Sierra Leone's Office of National Security (ONS) filed a complaint against the media outlet to the country's national regulator, the Independent Media Commission (IMC), accusing the Africanist Press of making “a deliberate attempt…to stir disaffection in the military,” which could “cause unrest in the country”. The ONS further requested the IMC to warn the news outlet against “inciting publications”. The complaint follows a publication by the Africanist Press on its Facebook page, alleging that the salary of 30 officials in the Finance Ministry could cover the monthly earnings of 1,747 soldiers.

Since then, Chernoh Alpha Bah has received death threats and other threats. For example, on 23rd May 2022, Bah received a death threat from a Facebook user in a direct message, accusing Bah of attempting to "distract the real citizens of Sierra Leone". On 24th May 2022, member of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), Sorie Fofana, published an opinion piece stating that authorities should treat the news outlet's reports as "treason" and that the outlet is run by "dissident elements". Angela Quintal of CPJ commented:

“Sierra Leonean authorities should cease their harassment of the Africanist Press and must investigate the death threats against its publisher, Chernoh Alpha Bah, instead of trying to censor him. Allegations of treason and claims that journalism threatens national peace are dangerous tools too often wielded by authorities against the press and can have a chilling effect on press freedom.”

Death threats and apparent assassination attempt of journalist

On 29th April 2022, journalist for TV channel Africa Young Voices (AYV), Gibril Gottor, woke up to the smell of petrol and discovered that the backdoor of his apartment had been doused with petrol and that a plastic bag with petrol was dripping in a roof ventilation pipe. The journalist, based in Kambia District in northern Sierra Leone, told Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that he had been reporting on sensitive topics such as looting by a criminal group, theft of land, extortion of fishermen by naval officers and trafficking of illegal timber. Gottor also said he had received death threats and been summoned to court on several occasions in relation to his reporting.