The government of Sierra Leone must stop the brutal repression of peaceful protests and respect the rights of its citizens to engage in demonstrations which is in line with the country’s international human rights obligations, said the global civil society alliance CIVICUS today. Over the past few weeks Sierra Leoneans took to the streets to express their views about the unprecedented economic hardship, brazen political intimidation, human rights violations, and high levels of corruption. They also expressed concerns over the selective application of the rule of law, and government’s control of the judiciary. The ongoing protests for democratic and economic reforms is a culmination of years of socio-economic challenges and marked increases in the cost of living.
Sierra Leone’s authorities have resorted to using extreme violence to respond to the wave of protests. Over a dozen of women were arrested by police on 4 July 2022, after taking part in a peaceful protest in the country’s capital Freetown. They argue that the government’s economic policies exacerbate the difficult social and economic conditions of citizens at a time when the cost of living is very high. Many protesters, particularly women, were brutally beaten and detained in police stations, with reports of being molested by male police officers.
In response to the protests, security forces brutally arrested Femi Claudius Cole and Dennis Bright, leaders of the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties. Military and police forces then continued to randomly search the homes of protest leaders and harassed many others who were not connected to the protests.
“We are likely to see an increase in protests in the lead-up to elections scheduled for next year. Sierra Leone must respect the right of its citizens to peacefully protest and must allow and protect peaceful protests as enshrined in the Sierra Leone constitution and international human rights frameworks that Sierra Leone is a party to.” said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Africa Lead for CIVICUS.
Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic and has ratified and domesticated several regional and international human rights instruments. However, Sierra Leone’s military and police forces have a long history of violence against protesters. Civic groups continue to be constrained by regulations and government corruption remains pervasive. Significant human rights issues include unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government or on behalf of government; arbitrary arrest or detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious acts of corruption; and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct. In the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections planned for mid-2023, high political polarisation and increasing tensions between ruling political party, opposition parties, and civic groups can be observed, intensified by recurrent insidious messages. The lack of inclusive governance continues, with a “winner-takes-all” and “State-capture” system deepening the political and governance challenges. This situation, along with dire socio-economic conditions and widespread perception of pervasive corruption, continue to undermine public trust in state institutions and the dividends of peace and democracy.
Civic space in Sierra Leone is rated as "Obstructed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.