Sierra Leone must immediately release, or facilitate a review by a judicial authority, 8 people detained for over three months without charge following a riot related to the Ebola outbreak, Amnesty International said today.
2 women and 6 men are detained in the capital’s maximum security prisons following their arrest last October in the Eastern region of Kono. These people are among 34 people detained after an Executive Order was issued by President Ernest Bai Koroma using his powers under the State of Emergency. 26 were later released while 8 continued to be arbitrarily detained. The detainees have no warrants or documentation supporting their detention or any release date.
Their arrests are related to a riot that occurred in Kono over a contested suspected Ebola patient who was the 90 year old grandmother of a local politician. Her family was accused of preventing health authorities to take her for an Ebola test. At least two people were shot dead during the riot, with witnesses describing how police used live rounds to disperse the crowd.
“Detaining people indefinitely without charge or review is unacceptable, and does nothing to tackle the Ebola crisis. The President should immediately release the 8 detainees, or allow an independent tribunal to review their situation as Sierra Leone’s Constitution demands,” said Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher who recently visited Sierra Leone and interviewed the 2 female detainees.
“Despite the challenges of the Ebola epidemic, restrictions on human rights under the State of Emergency must be in accordance with international standards and these powers should not be abused.”
A women’s rights organisation, AdvocAid, wrote to the President on 9 January requesting the release of the women from detention but to date have received no response. The arbitrary detention has been condemned by local civil society organisations, such as Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Amnesty International Sierra Leone and Prison Watch Sierra Leone but with little effect to date.
Amnesty International is also concerned by the fact that to date there has been no serious investigation into the killings. Amnesty International has been highlighting the issue of police accountability in Sierra Leone for several years. The government has not done enough to investigate and hold accountable police officers accused of using arbitrary or abusive force in the past.
The Sierra Leonean President declared a State of Emergency in July 2014 and passed the Public Emergency Regulations 2014. By-Laws for the Prevention of Ebola and Other Diseases were also passed by the Ministry of Local Government, including a ban on public gatherings. This was aimed at enabling the government and its partners to more robustly deal with the Ebola outbreak.
Under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Sierra Leone is a party, fair trial guarantees cannot be limited or restricted even by emergencies and special circumstances.