Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, but there were exceptions.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Government officials used criminal libel provisions of the Public Order Act (POA) to impede witness testimony in court cases, including anticorruption matters, and to target persons making statements the government considered to be against the national interest. While there is no hate-speech law, at times authorities used hate speech as a justification under the POA for restricting freedom of speech.
On November 18, police arrested and jailed for two days Boakai Kokofele and university student Theresa Mbomaya, who reportedly sent messages on WhatsApp on November 17 which the government deemed were directed at “inciting unlawful protests.” Prosecutors charged that Mbomaya and Kokofele violated the POA by encouraging citizens to set fire to vehicles in Freetown and use police officers’ family members as human shields if police tried to apprehend student protestors. On November 21, a magistrate court granted Mbomaya and Kokofele bail, and, as of December 8, both remained on bail awaiting trial.
Press and Media Freedoms: International media could operate freely but were required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communications and the government-funded Independent Media Commission (IMC) to obtain a license. Most registered newspapers were independent, although several were associated with political parties. Newspapers openly and routinely criticized the government and its officials as well as opposition parties. While independent broadcast media generally operated without restriction, there were exceptions. On June 17, the High Court acquitted radio journalist David Tam Baryoh of defamation under the POA of 1965; Baryoh had asked the minister of transport and aviation on a radio broadcast about the minister’s purchase of 100 buses from China.
On June 6, the IMC suspended 11 media houses for reportedly not paying fines the IMC Board had imposed in relation to complaints about their news coverage.
Violence and Harassment: During July police questioned and detained four journalists in relation to several libel and defamation-related complaints by ministers or members of parliament. Among those detained was journalist Sam Lahai, following a complaint from the Office of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs about an article in which Lahai questioned whether the deputy minister had interfered with the sovereignty of a local district council. On July 23, police questioned and detained Lahai but on July 25, released him on bail. On July 21, authorities issued a warrant to arrest al-Jazeera journalist Nena Davries for purportedly making false statements relating to an interview with the musician Emmerson Bockarie.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported 2.5 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected the right of freedom of association.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
Due to the need to combat the Ebola epidemic that occurred between May 2014 and November 2015, the government issued in August 2014 and August 2015 state of emergency measures that limited freedom of assembly and association, including the activities of “secret societies” that perform traditional cultural initiation and other practices. On August 15, the Office of the Attorney General reported that, although the government had not made a formal announcement, all of the state of emergency measures had expired on August 7, by virtue of statutory lapse provisions in the constitution. As of October 31, neither President Koroma nor parliament had formally confirmed the end of the state of emergency.
As of October, nine persons arrested and detained without trial in April 2015 for demonstrating in front of a foreign embassy were awaiting a trial date; they were directed to report monthly to the SLP Criminal and Investigations Division (CID).
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: There were reports police officers operating security roadblocks nationwide as part of routine security checks often extorted money from motorists.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law provides for refugee status as defined by international convention to be granted to eligible asylum seekers. UNHCR worked with government authorities to develop standard operating procedures for refugee status determination.
Durable Solutions: As of July the country hosted 782 refugees, the great majority from Liberia, and 17 asylum seekers. The Liberians’ prima facie refugee status expired in 2012 upon implementation of the cessation clause by the government, as reconfirmed by UNHCR and the National Commission for Social Action.
Temporary Protection: According to UNHCR the government did not provide temporary protection to certain individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In peaceful presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections held in 2012, the ruling APC won an expanded majority in parliament, and voters re-elected President Koroma. Domestic and international observers noted the benefits of incumbency gave the APC a significant competitive advantage but still characterized the elections as free, fair, transparent, and credible, commending the 87 percent turnout among registered voters. The opposition SLPP alleged widespread voter fraud and refused to accept the results of the polls until almost a month later.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties are free to register and operate in the country. As of August, 11 political parties were registered with the Political Parties Registration Commission. Opposition parties complained that the ruling APC engaged in intimidation of other parties. In June supporters of the opposition Alliance Democratic Party reported that supporters of the ruling APC smeared feces on the party’s Lunsar office and attacked the vehicle of the leader of the party.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. Women have the right to vote, but husbands or other patriarchal figures were known to influence their decisions. Of the 124 parliamentarians, 14 were women. As of August women led four of the 23 ministries. Seven of the 26 judges on the three highest courts were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 149 chiefdoms).
All citizens have the right to vote, but citizenship at birth is granted only to persons of “Negro-African” descent, thus disenfranchising the significant number of Lebanese and other “non-Negro-African” persons who were born and continued to reside in the country. Persons of non-Negro-African groups may apply to be naturalized. If naturalized, they are eligible to vote in all national and local elections, but no naturalized citizen may run for public office.
Ethnic affiliations strongly influenced political party membership for the two dominant ethnic groups, the Mende and Themne, each of which accounted for approximately 30 percent of the population. The Mende traditionally supported the SLPP and the Themne the APC. Other than the Limba, the third-most-populous ethnic group, who traditionally supported the APC, the other ethnic groups had no strong political party affiliations. Opposition parties regularly accused President Koroma of giving preference to Northerners in filling government positions. As of August, Northerners occupied 66 percent of cabinet offices, ministers from the South and East 17 percent, and those from the Western Peninsula held the remaining 17 percent.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Substantial corruption existed in the executive (including the security sector and migration management), legislative, and judicial branches. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Police and prison staff regularly extorted or solicited bribes from detainees and convicted prisoners. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a severe problem.
Corruption: For example, as of August the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had indicted two officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Food Security for conspiracy to commit a corruption offense and misappropriation of public property.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officers, their spouses, and children to declare their assets and liabilities within three months of assuming office. It also mandates disclosure of assets by government ministers and members of parliament. The ACC is empowered to verify asset disclosures and may publish in the media the names of those who refuse to disclose and petition the courts to compel disclosure. Failure to disclose also carries a penalty of up to 20 million leones ($2,740) and one year in prison. The particulars of individual declarations were not available to the public without a court order.
Public Access to Information: The law requires public authorities to grant citizens access to government-held information. The law, which was effectively enforced, incorporates a sufficiently narrow list of nondisclosure exceptions, a reasonably short timeline for disclosure, and reasonable processing fees. It includes civil and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. The Right to Access Information Commission is tasked with enforcing the law in relation to access to information. Applicants for information may appeal a disclosure denial to the commission and subsequently to the courts.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The government, including security forces, was generally responsive to human rights concerns raised by the HRCSL but was at times slow to support the HRCSL or implement its recommendations. A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to the views of local and international NGOs and generally acknowledged the problems presented. They often scheduled forums in conjunction with NGOs to discuss such topics as women’s rights and the rights of persons with disabilities.
Most domestic human rights NGOs focused on human rights education. A few NGOs, including the Campaign for Good Governance, LAWCLA, Timap for Justice, the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, and Access to Justice, monitored and reported on human rights abuses.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee operated without government or party interference. It focused on keeping human rights issues on the parliamentary agenda, paving the way for the passage of amended laws and ratification of international conventions, and doing public outreach.