Salone News

Omrie Golley and the death penalty in Sierra Leone

3 November 2007 at 21:37 | 1425 views

Commentary

By Patrick Hassan Hassan-Morlai.

Those of us who oppose the ultimate sanction of capital punishment as inappropriate, inhumane and barbaric for any offence whatsoever, can read into the freeing of Omrie Golley and two others more than a mere lack of evidence that warranted their release.

The official version which the office of the Attorney General of Sierra Leone wants us to believe is that in criminal trials, where there is little or insufficient evidence to result into a successful conviction, the prosecution should either not be brought in the first instance or be discontinued all together. On the face of it, this is a triumph for the judicial process in Sierra Leone.

Without any shadow of a doubt, Golley and the other two prisoners freed this week are the immediate and direct beneficiaries of the Attorney General’s “nuille prosequi” order. Their families, like the general Sierra Leonean populace, are another class of beneficiaries.

However, what is of cardinal importance in these every early days of President Ernest Koroma’s administration is his matching of his words with actions. Earlier in October when he delivered his first State Opening of Parliament speech, it was reported the president said that “Never again will the judicial system be manipulated to unfairly silence political opponents.”

For far too long, campaigners have argued that the only purpose for retaining the death penalty in Sierra Leone’s statute books is its relevance, as a draconian political too, to silence or even get rid of political opponents. Sierra Leone has lost fine brains and gallant soldiers through capital punishment. I need not mention the long list of those who have fallen by this political means of elimination.

Some two years ago, Sierra Leone witnessed another chapter of political slaying. The news was reported by many of the national tabloids and one used this caption: “Government Set to Execute 10 for Treason” (Concord Time, Freetown, 21 Dec. 2004). This was under the watch of President Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

On reading the news, I was sickened. This was not least because of the protestations of some of the condemned prisoners like Daniel Sandy and Captain Hindolo Trye who shouted: “We are not guilty” or because Justice Rashid said the prisoners will “suffer death by hanging”; but more also, I felt my efforts in collaboration with other campaigners in Freetown earlier in 2004 had failed to produce the desired results which might have commuted the sentences of those poor 10 souls.

Passionate about getting rid of the death penalty from Sierra Leone’s law books, I contacted the Centre for Capital Punishment Studies (CCP) at the University of Westminster to extend their pro bono work to Sierra Leone to work with other death penalty campaigners in that country. It was Melron Nicol-Wilson’s Lawyers’ Centre for Legal Assistance (LAWCLA) that I linked up and CCP was very keen to pursue death penalty campaign and representation work in Sierra Leone with LAWCLA. It turned out that the necessary political will from among those in power was not forthcoming. On one instance, a death penalty public discussion forum where a government minister, LAWCLA and others were to participate was called off at the eleventh hour because the government minister pulled out. So 2004 ended with the death sentence of those 10 for treason.

Just before their execution, I again wrote to the University of Westminster CCP as follows: “The tiny West African State of Sierra Leone will soon be killing 10 people for treason offences. We may be late to save the lives of those guys. But some time ago, I contacted your Centre (when Seetal was there) to link you with a local lawyers’ organisation in Freetown to work on the death penalty. Had that contact been followed, who knows what impact would have been created.” Eventually, since 2005 and thereafter, LAWCLA and CCP have established a thriving partnership with interns from the CCP spending time together with lawyers in Sierra Leone representing death row prisoners and campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty.

Couched in these circumstance, the decision to free Omrie Golley and the two others without much direct campaigning is akin (for us death penalty abolitionists) to manna from heaven for those hungry Israelites in the Sinai dessert. This is now an opportune time to engage with the Koroma administration to ensure that legislation is enacted to get rid of this monstrous and archaic political tool of oppression and silencing of opposition. Campaigners of all sorts should join forces together and pursue this as a common objective.

Campaigners need to engage with the Koroma administration now so that we know the decision to free Golley and others is a true acknowledgement of the fact that the death penalty in Sierra Leone had been used through political manipulation of the judicial system to silence political opponents (the President’s words). If this is done but President Koroma failed to deliver, we will hold him as having made a false start. On the other hand, if campaigners failed to take advantage of this opportunity, they will be held accountable for this. I hope this article will count as part of my humble contribution towards any campaign in Sierra Leone on this subject and I’m sure sooner or later, I’ll get into the thick of things either in Sierra Leone or over here.

Photo: Omrie Golley.

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