EXTERNAL AI Index: AFR 51/04/98
UA 35/98 Fear of torture and ill-treatment/
Prisoner of conscience 5 February 1998
SIERRA LEONEMichael Lawson, student
Amnesty International is seriously concerned about the safety of Michael Lawson,
who was arrested on 30 January 1998, and is calling for his immediate and
unconditional release as a prisoner of conscience.
Michael Lawson, a university student at Fourah Bay College, in the capital
Freetown, is apparently accused of passing information to a radio station
broadcasting in support of the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah,
ousted in a military coup in May 1997. President Ahmad Tejan kabbah had come
to power in March 1996 following elections. The radio station, 98.1 FM, has
been broadcasting clandestinely since July 1997. Many people suspected of
providing information to the radio station, or knowing from where broadcasts
are transmitted, have been arrested and ill-treated.
Michael Lawson is believed to be held at the police Criminal Investigation
Department (CID) headquarters in the centre of Freetown. Torture and
ill-treatment of those perceived to oppose the Armed Forces Revolutionary
Council (AFRC), which came to power following the coup, are routine.
Since the military coup on 25 May 1997, soldiers, together with members of
the armed opposition Revolutionary United Front (RUF) who have joined forces
with them, have committed serious human rights violations. Hundreds of people
have been arbitrarily arrested and detained; many have been tortured and
ill-treated. Some of those suspected of opposing the AFRC have been
extrajudicially executed. Victims of human rights violations have included
people associated with the ousted government, journalists, students and human
In October 1997 the AFRC agreed to return power to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
by 22 April 1998. However, there have been serious set-backs to the
implementation of this agreement. Fighting has intensified throughout the
country between soldiers and RUF forces on the one side and local hunters,
known as kamajors, who support President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, on the other.
The serious human rights abuses, including torture, ill-treatment and
deliberate and arbitrary killings of unarmed civilians by both sides, which
characterized the internal armed conflict between government forces and the
RUF from 1991 to 1996, are once again occurring.
In October 1997 Amnesty International published a report - Sierra Leone: A
disastrous set-back for human rights - which documented the serious human rights
violations that have occurred since the coup and made specific recommendations
to the AFRC for ending these abuses. It also called on the international
community, which has condemned the coup and sought to resolve the political
crisis in Sierra Leone, to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights
in any decisions and actions it takes.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Due to disruptions in communications with Sierra Leone,
since May 1997, Urgent Action coordinators are asked to organize a limited
number of appeals only: up to FIVE per section. A restricted international