Sierra Leone: 'Ebola regulations must not be used to curtail freedom of expression'

Freetown, Sierra Leone (PANA) - Sierra Leone should stop using emergency regulations brought in to combat Ebola as a pretext to restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International warned Monday.

“Now that Ebola cases are reducing and schools have re-opened, the government should immediately review the State of Emergency provisions and ensure that only provisions strictly required to fight the Ebola epidemic remain in effect,'' Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher, said in a statement made available to PANA here.

''Rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must not be unnecessarily or disproportionately curtailed, ’’ Mahtani noted.

The call follows an increase in arrests of opposition members, bans on peaceful protests and an unwillingness to tolerate dissent that has heightened following the removal of former Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana on 18 March.

Even though cases of Ebola have sharply reduced in Sierra Leone, State of Emergency measures have been increasingly used alongside other laws to stifle criticism, some of which are thought to be linked to the removal of the Vice President.

On Sierra Leone’s Independence Day, 27 April, 15 members of the main opposition party, Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and a Senior Officer from the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, were arrested in Kenema (East) and are currently on trial.

There are concerns about excessive use of force by the police with several people injured.

A march organised by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists on Independence Day in Freetown was also banned. Eight days earlier, 10 people were arrested for protesting outside the US Embassy, while in March a meeting of the Bar Association was broken up.

In contrast, assemblies and events held by the governing party have been allowed.

In November 2014, a journalist was detained for 11 days for criticising the Ebola response, and in April 2015 eight people from Kono were detained for six months without charge following disorder linked to a suspected Ebola case. Last month a man was charged with insulting the President after having forwarded a Whatsapp message he did not author.

In all of the cases, apart from the latter, State of Emergency powers were cited as reasons for police action.

“All restrictions on human rights under the State of Emergency and other laws must be in accordance with international law and standards, and not be arbitrarily or discriminatorily applied.

''Certain rights, such as the right to a fair trial or prohibition against ill treatment, cannot be derogated even during a State of Emergency. The focus must be the fight against the Ebola epidemic and not stifling of dissent,” said Mahtani.

Amnesty International calls on the government of Sierra Leone to urgently review the State of Emergency provisions and to ensure that everyone can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly in conformity with international and regional human rights law.

The organization also calls for an independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of excessive use of police force in Kenema on Independence Day.
-0- PANA SEG 4May2015

04 may 2015 12:33:20




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