Sierra Leone: Police, Non-State Actor Violence Violates Free Expression Rights

In its stakeholder submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR)* of Sierra Leone, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) highlighted numerous free expression violations caused by police use of excessive force, non-state actors, and the country’s criminal libel law.

Since the U.N.’s first human rights review of Sierra Leone through the UPR process in 2011, there have been 35 reported incidents of violations of freedom of expression. Free expression actors were physically attacked (19 incidents), arbitrarily arrested and detained (8), threatened (5), banned and censored (3).

Of the nineteen physical attacks, five were acts of police brutality, while most of the remaining attacks were perpetrated by non-state actors. Five of the eight arbitrary arrests and detentions were executed under The Public Order Act of 1965, which criminalises defamatory and seditious libel and publishing false news.

After its first UPR, Sierra Leone agreed to deter police officers from excessive use of force, uphold the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and repeal criminal libel laws. However, Sierra Leone has not made greater progress towards achieving these three goals.

 “The fundamental, enabling right to freedom of expression has been compromised by police and criminal laws in Sierra Leone for several years,” said Anjali Manivannan, the Programme Officer for Free Expression Rights Monitoring and Campaigns at the MFWA. “Problematically, only one recommendation from Sierra Leone’s first UPR explicitly directed the state to respect and protect freedom of expression.”
When the UPR Working Group-the Human Rights Council members who conduct the review-convenes from January to February 2016, the MFWA urges them to make many more recommendations on the right to freedom of expression in Sierra Leone. The MFWA hopes the Human Rights Council uses the opportunity provided by the UPR to emphasise different, specific steps for Sierra Leone to promote freedom of expression.

The MFWA’s stakeholder submission with recommendations is available here.

The UPR is a periodic review of the human rights records of all U.N. Member States undertaken by the U.N. Human Rights Council. Its goal is to improve human rights on the ground. States, U.N. entities, national human rights institutions, and NGOs may submit information to this process.

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