Human Rights defenders working/operating in Sierra Leone have had their own bitter pill to swallow, with some getting killed, others maimed, yet more forced to flee their own land of birth because they dared to tell those in power or authority that they have been infringing on the basic rights of individuals.
There was a time during the APC era of Stevens and Momoh when "careless talk" became a crime in the operations manual of the police and military. This undefined charge saw many spending days at the CID and the Pademba Road prison and eventually released as broken individuals with cigarette burns and other marks on delicate part of their bodies as "confessions" were forced out of them.
Apart from the uniformed security men and women, the APC had men and women in every government department, in every sphere of public life as long as two or three are gathered who always make it a duty to make daily reports to their handlers in the military, police and State House and the Lodge just who said what, where and on what occasion. Bars, entertainment spots and other areas of assembly including churches and mosques were regularly infiltrated to report on those who attended and who said what - never mind how some of these reports were embellished to please the ears of their masters.
The media came in for particular scrutiny. There was a time when live religious broadcasts by the SLBS got cut off, only being allowed if it was an APC-orchestrated event with the preachers passed as clean by the Politburo. If other broadcasts must be done live, then the preacher's script had to be vetted by the APC. Otherwise all the religious services were pre-recorded, listened to and edited before being made available for broadcast.
Listeners in Sierra Leone can now hear the BBC programme Focus on Africa LIVE as broadcast from London and take it as granted that this has existed all along.
There came a time when Siaka Stevens and the SLBS management devised a way of getting the programme out after the government decided that SLBS should no longer broadcast Focus on Africa LIVE. What they did was to pre-record the programme as it went out in the afternoon from the BBC. Listen for any item that was critical of the Stevens regime and carefully edit that out. What they did sometimes was to get some parts in and then get the President to react which became a part of the broadcast that Sierra Leoneans could hear after the 10pm news.
News magazines that were critical of government were confiscated at the port of entry and after making some copies available to the APC kingpins, the rest were destroyed.
The arrest of journalists thought to be critical was a regular fare. Orders were given for arrests even though the offending item on radio or the press has not been heard or seen by the President himself. His "security" details made sure that these were carried out before informing the Pa as was the case of one female BBC reporter who was on the ground and witnessed political violence and intimidation being carried out by one of the President's sons (not Jongopie in Germany).
When the poor lady questioned Siaka Stevens on this while conducting an interview with him, the old man was not that pleased and told her that he had no control over his son, even if that was the case and went on to lecture her about how the parents of the reporter could not also be held responsible for her actions.
That was it. The interview was conducted, courtesies exchanged and the lady left feeling good at having got something for London.
She got picked up by the Police after leaving State House and was subsequently detained. She was eventually released. It emerged that Siaka Stevens had not even given that order or so he claimed at the time. An overzealous Sierra Leone Police Chief present at the interview thought that was no way for the lady to talk to the Pa and acted accordingly!!!
There are many Sierra Leonean human rights defenders both within and outside the country who still believe that somebody must point out excesses of any government in power.
Of course there were those who were arrested and detained during NPRC rule, during AFRC rule, during President Kabbah rule and lately during the rule of Ernest Bai Koroma. He started off with wanting to follow the same path but has so far resisted the temptation to be as draconian when it comes to press freedom.
Ernest Bai Koroma's government, AFRC Mk2 would need to work more on the need to respect the human rights of everyone within the borders of Sierra Leone.
His failure to condemn violence initiated and carried out by his party operatives against the SLPP and other Sierra Leoneans has put him in the same cesspit of those who do not respect the rights of their citizens especially women who are often threatened with rape.
And as the world observes this day dedicated to the defenders of human rights, we salute all those who in one way or the other continue to bring to the attention of the government violations of the rights of the people.
Let us again remind the Ernest Bai Koroma government of a certain section of the Constitution which should be of concern to him and his government and to see how best he can conform to this constitutional order
8. (1) The Social Order of the State shall be founded on the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice.
(2) In furtherance of the Social Order—
every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations, and opportunities before the law, and the State shall ensure that every citizen has an equal right to all opportunities and benefits based on merit;
the State shall recognise, maintain and enhance the sanctity of the human person and human dignity; and
the Government shall secure and maintain the independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law and unfettered access thereto, and to this end shall ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity, and that opportunities for securiting justice are not denied any citizen by reason of economic or other disability.
(3) The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that—
every citizen, without discrimination on any grounds whatsoever, shall have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunities to secure suitable employment;
conditions of service and work are fair, just and humane and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life;
the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused, and in particular that special provisions be made for working women with children, having due regard to the resources of the State;
there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons, having due regard to the resources of the State;
there is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex, and that adequate and satisfactory remuneration is paid to all persons in employment; and
the care and welfare of the aged, young and disabled shall be actively promoted and safeguarded.