Police gunned down Antigovernment Protesters

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That was the cry for help sent out of Kabala in the Koinadugu district of Sierra Leone this morning, by one resident of the town – Mr. Wurie Barrie.

But as an eerie calm returns to the once sleepy town of Koinadugu, after several hours of police violence and chaos, unconfirmed reports put the number dead at more than four.

What could have gone so horribly wrong, in one of the ruling APC party’s political stronghold?

According to an earlier report by BBC reporter – Umaru Fofanah, “a 24-hour curfew has been imposed in Kabala where hospital sources have confirmed the shooting dead by police of two protesters. Two people are admitted there while two others are in a critical condition, and have been referred to the capital. The ruling party headquarters in the town and the homes of the local police chief and the District Officer have been torched”.

If this report is true, then it is safe to say that the government and its ruling APC party have lost huge political capital and goodwill in Koinadugu, where the last two general elections have seen a massive swing to APC at the expense of the opposition SLPP.

Koinadugu is the most deprived district in Sierra Leone, with the highest concentration of household poverty, illiteracy, youth unemployment, and childhood mortality. Like Kono district in the east of Sierra Leone, successive governments have not only lied to the people of Koinadugu district about investing in their communities, but have also failed them woefully.

And it would appear that the ruling APC’s decision to relocate the proposed youth village from Koinadugu District to Tonkolili District, is quite simply one lie too many for the youths of Kabala.

The APC government had received over $200 million from the international community and the World Bank, to help pay for the construction and development of the youth village in Kabala, as part of efforts to support vocational and employment skills training for youths in the district. (Photo: President Koroma early this year, promising the youths of Kabala that he will ensure that the youth village is built in their community. He has reneged on his promise).

But it seems the government has decided to re-prioritise this funding and there are suspicions most of that money have been misappropriated, like so many other funded development projects in the country.

Tonight as the people of Kabala count their dead and injured, the peace and stability of Koinadugu district is at serious risk of deteriorating further. (Photo: A school boy bleeding profusely, wearing a shirt that aptly reads on the front: “I survived another school year”. But has he?).

It seems the government and police have failed to protect him. The chief of Sierra Leone police – Munu, must resign or be sacked. He has certainly become unfit for purpose.

Sierra Leone’s human rights campaign group – the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) has issued a statement following the police killing of unarmed citizens in Kabala. This is what it says:

“Today (16-08-2016) Youth of Kabala, Koinadugu District who were staging a peaceful demonstration over the government’s decision to relocate a Youth village that had been promised the district since 2014, were met with extreme Police violence and some of them paid with their lives.

“According to our sources from the township, Police officers called on the scene to control the protesters, fatally shot youths and injured a few others. This resulted in a rampage that led to the loss of more lives and burning down of houses.

“We in the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) strongly condemn the recent police attack on innocent protesters and the police brutality, both during and in its aftermath.

“We are extremely concerned that the standard of policing in Sierra Leone has sunk to unimaginable depths.  For far too long, there have been double standards in place for police officers involved in incidents of brutality and misconduct, and today’s event in Kabala is no exception. The ease with which police officers use live bullets to disperse unarmed protesters is a very worrying sign for this nation’s political future.

“We have evidence of Police violence and professional misconduct from all over Sierra Leone, and we believe that the impunity enjoyed by the Sierra Leone Police explains the distrust and cynicism that undermines effective policing in Sierra Leone. No police officer has ever been convicted for any of the killings or acts of brutality against civilians.

“We in the CHRDI, call on the government and the police to raise their standards to internationally accepted levels. It is time for substantive policy change within the Sierra Leone Police Force, including timely and meaningful accountability in order to begin restoring community trust in the Sierra Leone police force.

“Police should protect lives, not endanger them. They should be a friend of the people, seeking to protect their lives and properties at all cost.

“We acknowledge that the police are mandated to use force where necessary in order to enforce the law, but we believe that such a mandate is not without responsibility. The poignant question that should be asked, even as the country reels from the aftermath of this despicable incident is, was the use of lethal force by the police justifiable?

“In view of the above concerns, CHRDI deems it fit to make the following observations;

  1. The SLP should stop escalating tension in any conflict across the country by adopting proper community relationship strategies and stop resorting to use of fire arms at the slightest provocation.
  2. All Law enforcement officers must be guided by the principles of reasonable force and democratic policing.
  3. A police officer shall always attempt to use non-violent means first and lethal force may only be employed when non-violent means are ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.

“We also wish to draw the attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their right.”

Police killing of innocent youths in kabala.

The country’s main opposition SLPP party has also published this statement condemning the police attack on unarmed civilians in Koinadugu: