In a show of disproportionate use of lethal force and deadly crackdown of a protest, security forces in Sierra Leone have killed five people, injured several, and arrested others for protesting against government’s decision to relocate an electricity generator.
On July 18, 2020, the youth of Mankeni, a city 137 kilometers east from the country’s capital Freetown, took to the street to protest against the government’s decision to relocate an electricity generating power plant from Makeni to another city Lungi, which according to the government is currently in dire need of electricity.
Hundreds of young men and women poured onto the streets setting up barricades to block the road to prevent the transfer of the 1MW Caterpillar generator by the Electricity Generating and Transmission Company (EGTC) from their city to Lungi.
The protest descended into chaos as some of the protesters attacked the ruling party office in Makeni, damaging doors and windows. The police and army personnel responded with gunshots and tear gas canisters leading to a stampede. Five people were reported killed, including a 15-year-old schoolboy who died shortly after arriving at Makeni’s main hospital.
Several others were also arrested. At least 51 people were reportedly arrested in connection with the protest while 10 protestors sustained injuries. The authorities have come under heavy criticism for the heavy-handed repression.
The Independent Police Complaints Board (IPCD) said in a statement dated July 20, 2020, that they had taken note of the incident “allegedly resulting in the discharge of firearms killing five members of the civil populace. Accordingly, the IPCB has commenced preliminary investigations on its own initiative pursuant to Regulation 9 of the said Regulations with a view to determining the conduct of the SLP personnel involved’’.
Though the MFWA does not condone the violent conduct of some of the demonstrators, we consider the response by the security forces as disproportionate and indiscriminate. It thus falls short of international standards of equal, reasonable, appropriate force in crowd control, as established under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and of which Sierra Leone is a signatory.
The MFWA calls on the authorities to release the arrested protestors, and to ensure that the promise investigations are conducted thoroughly leading to the arrest and prosecution of the culprits.