In fulfillment of its mandate to defend the rights of human rights defenders and to ensure that press freedom remains guaranteed in Sierra Leone, the Executive Director of LEGAL LINK, Rashid Dumbuya Esq and a host of other erudite legal practitioners have provided free legal representation to Sallieu Tejan Jalloh while in custody at the Criminal Investigations Department in a bid to secure his release.
The Journalist who almost spent 24 hours at the Criminal Investigations Department was finally put on bail on Tuesday 12th November 2019 following immense pressure from his Lawyers and an increased momentum and outcry from media organizations, practitioners and the wider public over his detention.
Thanks to all those who played a part in the securing of his release and the protection of his fourth estate rights in a democratic society.
According to our instructions, Mr. Sallieu Tejan Jalloh being the Managing Editor and Publisher of TIMES NEWSPAPER, received a tip off from a whistle-blower alleging that a total of US$ 1.5 M was being paid into the Chief Minister’s account at Ecobank by a mining company.
Conscious and mindful of international best practice coupled with his obligations under the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist Code of Ethics and the Independent Media Commission’s Code of Practice, Mr Sallieu Tejan Jalloh decided to reach out to the Chief Minister through text messages to verify (confirm or deny) the said allegation before he proceeds with PUBLICATION of the story.
As admitted in the press release from the office of the Chief Minister dated 12th November 2019, about FOUR questions were being asked by the Journalist for comments in his text message to the Chief Minister.
According to the Chief Minister’s account, the text message was received on Friday 8th November 2019.
The Chief Minister who felt a little jittery over this objective journalist enquiry decided as a first step to lodge a complaint to the ACC and the Sierra Leone Police alleging extortion and harassment by the Journalist.
Based on the complaint received from the Chief Minister, the police decided to effects an arrest on Mr. Sallieu Tejan Jalloh at the late hours of Monday 11th November 2019.
According to the account of our client and several onlookers present at the scene, the plain clothes officers who arrested Mr. Sallieu Tejan Jalloh went to his office at Soldier street on the pretext of wanting to procure an advert on his Newspaper but later grabbed him by the waist and arm and dragged him into their vehicle for onward movement to the Criminal investigations Department.
This fracas which took place in the public left onlookers in a state of utter bewilderment
Mr Sallieu Tejan Jalloh was later taken to the CID that Monday night and detained at the detention centre without any official charge or reason for his arrest being made to him. His mobile phones were also carted away from him by the Sierra Leone police.
While in detention, our client suffered several inhumane and degrading treatments. For example, no one was allowed to see him on the first day of his arrest nor was any food or water provided to him by the police. As a matter of fact, our client slept throughout the night on an empty stomach causing him severe nervous breakdown and intense perspiration.
CONCERNS OVER THE CHIEF MINISTER’S REACTION TO THE TEXT MESSAGE
Without any iota of doubt, it was as a result of the complaint made by the Chief Minister to the police that led to the arbitrary arrest and detention of Sallieu Tejan Jalloh.
Had the Chief Minister not complained to the police exaggerating a mere text message that was seeking clarifications as acts of extortion and harrassment, the police would never have felt so enthused to manhandle and assault our client in the way they did.
In the light of the given circumstances, it is our candid view that the Chief Minister was not only overreaching in his conduct but served as the very precursor to the violation of the human rights of Mr. Sallieu Tejan Jalloh.
It is also important to emphasize that, as a public officer, the Chief Minister was under a duty by virtue of the Right to Access Information Act, to let out information to the press regarding allegations of bribery and corruption; albeit in the spirit of accountability, transparency and good governance, which ironically happens to be a priority objective under the New Direction agenda.
It is illogical at the very least to conceive that the Chief Minister would chose to revert to the ACC and the Police rather than simply providing a reply to the text message that was sent to him by the journalist inquiring about his knowledge of the suspicious transaction.
The Chief Minister’s failure to provide a reply to a simple request from a media practitioner we strongly submit, amounts to an abrogation of not only the Right to Access Information Act but also the very foundations upon which the New Direction prides itself; transparency and accountability.
Flowing from the above therefore, we hereby demand the following from the Chief Minister:
1. That an open and unreserved apology be made to our client, Mr Sallieu Tejan Jalloh.
2. That adequate compensation be also made to Mr Sallieu Tejan Jalloh in lieu of the gross human rights violations he had suffered in the hands of the police as a result of the Chief Minister’s exaggerations.
CONCERNS OVER THE HANDLING OF THE ISSUE BY THE ACC
No doubt, the ACC remains the most competent and vibrant institution regarding the investigations and prosecutions of Corruption cases in Sierra Leone.
The recent scores awarded to the ACC by the MCC and Afrobarometer corruption indexes underpin the gains that have been made particularly in recent times, under the dynamic leadership of Francis Ben Kaifalah Esq.
But without appearing to question the professionalism of the ACC in their handling of suspicious transaction investigations, we are however deeply concerned with the speed and manner in which the investigations have been concluded.
In a press release from the ACC dated 13th November 2019, it is clear as crystal that only a single step was taken by the institution to verify whether the allegation that 1.5 million dollars was sent to the Chief Minister’s account was true or not.
That single step was the issuance of a “section 57 (2) notice compelling ECO Bank to submit to the Commission all financial records and transactions of the Chief Minister”.
We humbly submit that this is not a sufficient or an appropriate step to ascertain the veracity of suspicious transactions.
In most cases of suspicious transactions, the Banks themselves are co-conspirators to this offence as they sometimes benefit hugely from such illegal transaction out flows.
Expecting them therefore to be forthright in such matters is like beating a dead horse.
In addition to the section 57 (2) notice that has been sent, we hereby admonish the ACC to institute the following measures as soon as possible.
1. To inquire from the Financial Intelligence Unit all records it has in its custody regarding ECO Bank starting from the 1st of November 2019 till date. Working with the FIU on this matter will be of great help as they have the expertise and know how on tracking down suspicious transactions and Anti- money laundering and terrorism financing activities.
2. Hold a proper interview with the Heads of Compliance and Internal Controls of ECO Bank as they are the ones usually under a statutory obligation to report all suspicious transactions to the regulator (Bank of Sierra Leone). A close interview with these personnel might be helpful.
3. Request from the Banking Regulator (Bank of Sierra Leone) all suspicious transaction reports lodged to them by ECO BANK starting from 1st November 2019 to 15th November 2019.
Banks are under a duty to report suspicious transactions to the Regulator by virtue of the Banking Act of 2011 and the Anti- Money laundering and Terrorism financing Act 2012.
4. Subpoena and or request a search of the mobile phone of the Chief Minister to verify whether any SMS alert message was received over the alleged transaction. Usually, text alert messages are always sent when bank accounts are credited.
5. Where 4 above proves impracticable, subpoena and or request the phone records (calls and text messages) of the Chief Minister from all his mobile operators starting from 1st November 2019 to 15th November 2019.
It is only when all of the above steps could have been taken and no adverse findings revealed, that a logical conclusion can be reached by the ACC to exonerate the Chief Minister.
Asking the bank alone regarding the account status of the Chief Minister may not necessarily be the best and most prudent way to investigate suspicious transactions /anti- money laundering and terrorism financing activities.
We refer the ACC to take a cursory look at the Banking Act and the Anti- Money laundering and Terrorism Financing Act for ease of reference.
CONCERNS OVER THE HANDLING OF THE MATTER BY THE SIERRA LEONE POLICE
It is indisputable that the Sierra Leone Police acted on the prompting of the Chief Minister.
Based on his complaint of alleged extortion and harassment, the police decided to go on the rampage. They roughed, manhandled and assaulted our client without deference to his fundamental human rights.
There’s evidence of swollen body parts and minor bruises on the neck of our client as the plain clothes police officers bundled him away to the CID detention center.
Apparently, no warrant was used by the police to effect arrest nor were the police even bothered to state to Mr. Sallieu Tejan Jalloh why he was being arrested.
This in our opinion is a blatant violation of the Miranda rights of the suspect as provided for under the Luanda Guidelines on Pre- trial detention of suspects.
From the above, it is no gainsaying to state that the police acted in ways that do not reflect democratic policing in the 21st century.
As a consequence of the above, we hereby recommend the following:
1. That all matters pending investigations at the CID regarding our client be dropped forthwith.
2. That due to the arbitrary arrest and UNLAWFUL detention effected on our client by the police, we demand that an adequate monetary compensation be paid to our client as provided for under section 17(4) of the 1991 constitution.
3. That the SLP endeavors to resist the urge of being used as stooges and puppets by the powers that be and embrace the tenets of democratic policing going forward.
4. That the SLP considers working on its public image so as to minimize the perception of being seen as a regime police serving the political class and not the interest of the people.
The refusal and or omission of Parliament to repeal the Criminal Libel law create the enabling environment for the continued violation of the fundamental human rights of journalists in the country.
Criminalizing press freedom does not only run contrary to section 25 of the 1991 Constitution and other international frameworks that Sierra has signed and ratified but is also anathematic to the tenets of a democratic society.
It is time for Parliament to repeal the Criminal Libel law. Too much has been deferred for too long!
Had this repeal being done, perhaps the Chief Minister would not have had the proclivity and easy criminal litigation option but rather a civil option were he would have been required to prove his claims on a balance of probabilities without any arrest being effected on Mr. Jalloh.
To the President and government of Sierra Leone
Your Excellency, permit us to remind you that repealing the Criminal Libel Law was a key promise made in your new Direction manifesto.
While it is true that some giant strides have been taken by your government to repeal this draconian law, there’s still some great deal of challenges standing in the way to its complete overturning.
Seeing the repeal process therefore to its logical conclusion is what would be most desirable at this time and not mere commitments.
The media Constituency and the human rights community in Sierra Leone are running out of patience and cannot wait any longer for this repeal.
Your Excellency, it’s time to finish the good work you have started and leave behind an indelible footprint in the sands of time.
Your Chief Minister’s current error affords a good opportunity to be seized for necessary legislative action on the criminal Libel law.
It is important to emphasize that, ours is a democracy and not an autocratic system of government. Upholding therefore the core tenets of a democratic society will serve both our national and security interests in fundamental terms.
The 2019 World Press Freedom Report shows that Sierra Leone has dropped 7 places below its previous score card in 2018. This downward trend is not only worrying but reveals the state of affairs regarding press freedom in the country.
Let’s fix this issue once and for all and make journalism a safe practice in Sierra Leone!
Rashid Dumbuya Esq
International human rights lawyer and Lead Defence Counsel,
For and on behalf of the Legal Team