This statement was originally published on africafex.org on 27 February 2017.
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) denounces the harassment of Mr. Abdul Fatoma, the Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), a civil society organisation by authorities in Sierra Leone.
Over the past two months, Mr. Abdul Fatoma, who is also an anti-corruption activist, has been harassed by Sierra Leone's parliament and the police following his remarks about ongoing corruption allegations within the country's legislative body.
On January 31, 2017, police officers, without warrant, arrested Mr. Fatoma at the premises of Radio Democracy, in Sierra Leone where he had just ended a radio discussion on a corruption scandal in the country. The police forcibly took him to the Sierra Leonean parliament where he was questioned by members of parliament. Mr. Fatoma was subsequently handed over to the office of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for further interrogation, where he was detained overnight. Mr. Fatoma was released on February 1, 2017 but his passport was confiscated by the police. He was summoned to appear before parliament on February 6, 2016.
Mr. Fatoma was asked to come back to parliament with evidence to support claims he made in a letter addressed to the Majority Leader in July last year, concerning the corruption scandal. The meeting was, however, cancelled and postponed to February 16 when Mr. Fatoma finally submitted the requested documents to the clerk and director of communications of the Sierra Leonean parliament.
According to a press release published by CHRDI on February 18, 2017, Mr. Fatoma has been forbidden by both the police and the house of parliament from leaving the country. No formal charges have been brought against Mr. Fatoma by the police. The CHRDI also reported that the police, under the instructions of the Majority leader of parliament, Honourable Ibrahim Bundu, have refused to return Mr. Fatoma's passport to him.
Background of the case
Since July 2016, Mr. Abdul Fatoma under the CHRDI's Accountability Campaign programme has challenged the accountability of an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) set up by government to investigate alleged corrupt acts within the country's parliament. Over the years, Sierra Leone's parliament has been accused of diverting funds allocated for implementation of projects into their personal bank accounts. Mr. Fatoma has been very instrumental in the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone.
Denying Mr. Fatoma his right to freedom of movement is an outright violation of his rights as guaranteed in Sierra Leone's constitution. Article 18 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone states that “No person shall be deprived of his freedom of movement, and for the purpose of this section the said freedom means the right to move freely throughout Sierra Leone, the right to reside in any part of Sierra Leone, the right to enter or leave Sierra Leone, and immunity from expulsion from Sierra Leone.” The police therefore have no right confiscating Mr. Fatoma's passport.
AFEX condemns the harassment of Mr Abdul Fatoma by the authorities in Sierra Leone. We call on Honourable Bundu to order the police to return Mr. Fatoma's passport to him to enable him travel out of Sierra Leone whenever he wishes.
Parliament is mandated by the Constitution of Sierra Leone to “regard themselves as representatives of the people and desist from any conduct by which they seek to enrich themselves.” Parliament as an institution must therefore be seen fighting corruption rather than fighting anti-corruption activists. The police, on the other hand, is obliged to protect the civil liberties of people, not harass them.
AFEX therefore urges the authorities to respect freedom of expression and freedom of movement rights in Sierra Leone.
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Association for Media Development in South Sudan
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Institute for Media and Society
International Press Centre
Journaliste en danger
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
National Union of Somali Journalists
West African Journalists Association