From the Editor’s Keyboard

Justice in Sierra Leone: A Microcosm

By  | 27 January 2006 at 06:02 | 1589 views

Sierra Leone’s Attorney General and minister of Justice Mr. Frederick Carew (photo) has been at the centre of many high profile cases from the controversial trial of the war crime indictees by the Special Court for Sierra Leone to the Yansaneh case and the now to the mysterious Golley coup plot indictment.
Carew, a highly experienced laywer and politician, has been receiving a lot of flak from members of the public most notably the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists. In the ensuing days editor Gibril Koroma shall be analyzing these three cases as indicators(albeit a tiny percentage) of the present state of justice in Sierra Leone.

Let’s send the ball tumbling with this report from the federation of human rights defenders:

The Observatory has been informed by the Forum of Conscience (FOC), a Sierra Leonean human rights NGO, about the following developments in the investigation in the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh, former acting editor of the independent newspaper For di people, and member of the Sierra Leone Chapter of Amnesty International and of the National League for Human Rights.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sierra Leone. New information:

Mr. Yansaneh had died on July 28, 2005, as a result of violent beatings he had been subjected to on May 10, 2005, by a group of allegedly hired men and family members of Mrs. Fatmata Hassan, a Member of Parliament for the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), a newly appointed member of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as the owner of the building housing For di people (See background information).

According to the information received, on November 7, 2005, a press conference was organised between members of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and officers of the Law Officers Department of the Ministry of Justice. Mr. Francis M. Carew, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Septimus Kaikai, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mr. Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, President of SLAJ, and numerous journalists attended the conference.

During the event, Mr. Kargbo asked for more information about the investigation into the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh, following the inquest that was set up by the government to investigate the cause of his death (see background information), as, to date, the suspects have still not been charged to court.

In his response, the Attorney General disclosed and read a letter written by the Chief Justice, Head of the Judiciary, that was addressed to him, in which he stated that the coroner in charge of the inquest, Magistrate Adrian Fischer, had not submitted his report to the Office of Director of Public Prosecution (Ministry of Justice), which should include signed testimonies from witnesses, and which according to law should be used to prosecute the matter in court. Nonetheless, Magistrate Adrian Fischer did submit his verdict on August 26, 2005, and ordered that the suspects be arrested (see background information). After reading the letter, the Attorney General said that, as a consequence, he could not charge the suspects to court.

The Observatory is very preoccupied by these facts which raise doubts about the will of Sierra Leonean authorities to sanction the authors of Mr. Yansaneh’s death. As a consequence, the Observatory fears that these developments might lead to a closure of the case in Mr. Yansaneh’s death, and calls upon the authorities of Sierra Leone to conduct a fair, impartial and independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh, in order to identify the perpetrators, bring them to justice and pronounce sentences proportional to the gravity of the crime.

Background information:

On May 10, 2005, Mr. Harry Yansaneh was beaten in his office in Freetown by a group of allegedly hired men and family members of Mrs. Fatmata Hassan. The group threatened to kill Mr. Yansaneh, and violently beat him, which led to tremendous bleeding. They also vandalised the equipment of For di people when they sought to forcibly evict the newspaper from the office it had occupied over the last ten years. These events reportedly took place because of the criticism of the government the newspaper had regularly made.

In early June, Mr. Yansaneh was admitted for eight days at the Cupid Hospital, in Freetown, and again on July 18, 2005, where he died on July 28, 2005, reportedly of kidney problems, probably due to complications from injuries sustained from the beatings to which he had been subjected.

An inquest, that was instituted by the government at the request of SLAJ, lasted for about two weeks and ended on August 26, 2005. It comprised the coroner, Magistrate Adrian Fischer, and six jurors. Nineteen witnesses were called into testify. In submitting its final verdict, the jury, guided by Magistrate Fischer, concluded that Mr. Harry Yansaneh’s death was an involuntary manslaughter and declared that “having examined all the evidence in the inquest we have therefore unanimously come to a final conclusion that the death of Harry Yansaneh was unlawful and illegal”.

As a result, on August 26, 2005, in pursuance of Section 27 of the coroner’s act, the coroner ordered that arrest warrants be issued against Mrs. Fatmata Hassan, Mr. Ahmed Komeh, Mr. Bai Bureh Komeh, Ms. Aminata Komeh, her three children, Mr. Reginald Bull, Mrs. Hassan’s bodyguard and caretaker for the building housing For di people, and Mr. Olu Campbell, the property evaluator, who were also present at the time at the assault.

The CID of the Sierra Leone Police confirmed the arrests on the same day of Mrs. Hassan, Mr. Reginald Bull and Mr. Olu Campbell, and asserted that the police were now collaborating with Interpol for the immediate extradition of Messrs. Ahmed Komeh and Bai Bureh Komeh, and Ms. Aminata Komeh, who are believed to be currently in the United Kingdom.

On August 30, 2005, Mrs. Hassan, Mr. Bull and Mr. Campbell were released on bail at the High Court of Sierra Leone, after they were earlier denied bail at the Lower Court, pending further argument from legal representatives (both on the prosecution and the defence side).

My Comments: There are several unanswered questions here:

1. Why did it take the honourable Attorney General and minister of Justice so long(several weeks) to announce to the Sierra Leone public and to the rest of the world that indeed magistrate Adrian Fisher erred by not sending his report to the Director of Public Prosecutions? Also, why does the minister have to be informed about this grave mishap by the Chief Justice? Does the minister want us to believe he DID NOT know anything about what Fisher did with his report? Did he ask Fisher to do the proper thing? Obviously he did not.What has he done to rectify things? Nothing, except to say his office is not going to charge anybody to court.This is incredible.

2. Why did magistrate Fisher not send this important document to the almighty DPP?. This error (if we may call it that) is mind-boggling to put it mildly. What’s going on here,gentlemen? Are we to believe, Fisher, an experienced and obviously knowlegeable magistrate, can commit such a silly mistake?

3.We have not heard from magistrate Fisher for quite a long time. For somebody who was so vocal before, during and after the inquest to suddenly go MIA (Missing in Action)is itself cause for concern. Where is the man? Why is he not responding to the minister’s statement?

4.The aggrieved party, jurors of the inquest and suspects in this case agree that journalist Harry Yansaneh was physically attacked. The attack, it was conceded, may not have immediately caused Yansaneh’s death but it certainly and significantly contributed to it. If that is true, why did the state not prosecute the people who launched the attack? The people involved are known to the police, are they not? The police (let’s forget about the elusive magistrate Fisher) have all the documentation on the assault case, don’t they? What are they waiting for? The attackers can at least be charged with assault and sent to court while we wait for Fisher to send his report to the DPP for the manslaughter charge to kick in. This is not rocket science, is it?

Before I leave this issue and allow the reader to make his or her own assessment and decide whether justice has so far been seen to be done on this case, I would like to say something about the major dramatis personae:

Attorney General Frederick Carew:He is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful northerner in the present SLPP government. The other powerful northerner that easily comes to mind is Dr. Alfred Bobson Sesay, the famous "broke ose minister" (as minister of Lands,he is said to waste no time destroying the houses of people who build on government land).

A strict and highly disciplined individual who grew up in Freetown and read law in the United Kingdom, Carew was a dedicated loyalist of the octogenarian politician Dr. John Karefa-Smart and the UNPP(a political party with a huge northern base now depleted and weakened by the re-invigorated APC).He is from tonkolili district(Yoni chiefdom) and with no track record of corruption, he is one of the most respected politicians from that part of the country.

Carew has been in opposition for most of his political life and had suffered much persecution with a couple of stints at Pademba Road prison (he was one of the people arrested during the Mohamed Sorie Forna-Ibrahim Taqi treason trial). At a meeting at Magburaka last year, Carew told the mainly anti-SLPP audience that he was getting old and that he was determined to do something for his people before it’s too late. He also admonished younger Tonkolilians to stop what he called "extreme radicalism" and try to do something beneficial for the people in the district and for the country.

The SLPP is definitely happy to have a man like Carew in its fold but he has to be extremely careful how he handles recent cases espeially the Yansaneh case. That is one case that may well dent his present pristine image.

Dr. Fatmata Hassan: Fatmata, an SLPP member of parliament from tonkolili, is also one of the few female medical doctors of northern origin in the country. Popular in her Magburaka constituency and the rest of the district, she has a large number of supporters not only in Tonkolili but also in neighbouring Bombali district. She is one of the female pillars of the SLPP in the north, an area where the party has limited and unpredictable popularity.

Fatmata studied in the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Her late former husband Musa Yamba Kormeh also studied in the Soviet Union and was a successful businessman and politician (he was an APC parliamentarian). Fatmata left Kormeh and married a Mr. Hassan when Kormeh was still alive but returned to claim his properties through the children she had with the late man. One of the properties is the building which housed most of Freetown’s struggling newspapers and which is at the centre of her present woes. Musa was a friend of the press and was never bothered by the fact that most of the newspaper owners in his building could not pay the rent.

The chidren of Musa and Fatmata allegedly involved in the assault on journalist Yansaneh are currently living and studying in London. If the matter is taken to court they would have to return to Sierra Leone to face the law.That probably terrifies them and their mother.

Ibrahim Kargbo(SLAJ President):Kargbo is also from the north and knows Fatmata and Carew quite well. A veteran journalist, he is widely respected both at home and abroad. He counts as his personal friends president Kabbah and most of the ministers, parliamentarians and business executives in the country.

In a country where the media depend largely on the goodwill of politicians for adverts and other financial graces, observers believe Kargbo and his executive (most of whom are newspaper editors and owners like him) would find it extremely difficult to put their feet down in this highly political case if the other journalists in the country don’t exert the necessary pressure on them. Well, let’s wait and see how the ball rolls on this one.

Next week we shall look at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and its own players.


Photo: Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice, Ade Renner-Thomas

Photo credit: Awareness Times, Freetown, Sierra Leone.