Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. The prosecutor of the republic has responsibility to investigate the lawfulness of security force killings, and the military has responsibility to make parallel administrative investigations.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.
In January a man and woman from Kurani Ya Mkanga on Grande Comore told a Comorian online radio program of humiliating and harsh abuse and mistreatment by security forces at an office inside the Simboussa military camp. A January 5 social media video showed two Comorian soldiers mistreating the man. After viewing the video, the minister of justice claimed not to be aware of the abusive behavior. Authorities did not investigate following the radio show and video.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces, within both police and military. Corruption and reluctance by the populace to bring charges contributed to impunity. The prosecutor of the republic, under the Ministry of Justice, has the responsibility to investigate abuses.
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, particularly in the prison on Anjouan. The national prison in Moroni on Grande Comore is the largest of three prisons in the country. The third is on Moheli. Military detainees were held in military facilities. National or island authorities used various detention facilities as deemed appropriate, and detainees could be transferred from either Anjouan or Moheli to the national prison in Moroni, depending upon the nature of their offenses.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. As of August the Moroni prison held 204 inmates, including one woman and six minors, but according to International Committee of the Red Cross standards, the capacity was 60 inmates. The Koki prison on Anjouan held 118 detainees, with five women and no minors. Its capacity is not known but prisoners are kept in only one of the two prison buildings, consisting of three rooms each measuring 215 square feet and equipped with a single toilet.
The law on child protection provides for juveniles ages 15 to 18 to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Juveniles and adult prisoners were held together.
Detainees and prisoners normally received a single meal per day consisting of 1.8 ounces of rice and one egg (in Moroni) or red beans when available (in Anjouan). Those who did not receive additional food from family members suffered food deprivation. Other common problems included inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical facilities. The prison in Moroni had a nurse on staff and a visiting doctor; prisoners in the Koki prison on Anjouan said they were sometimes allowed to leave the prison if they needed medical care. There were no reported deaths attributable to physical conditions.
Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints without censorship, but investigations and follow-up actions almost never occurred. Authorities allowed access to visitors and religious observance, although some minority religious organizations reported difficulty visiting prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross and diplomatic missions to monitor prisons. Authorities required that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) request a visit permit from the prosecutor general.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these provisions, although there were some arbitrary arrests.
The law requires judicial arrest warrants as well as prosecutorial approval to detain persons longer than 24 hours without charge. The law provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, and for detainees to be informed promptly of the charges against them. A magistrate informs detainees of their rights, including the right to legal representation. These rights were inconsistently respected. The bail system prohibits persons on bail from leaving the country. Some detainees did not have prompt access to attorneys or their families.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest. For example there were multiple press reports of suspects’ wives being held for one or two days to pressure their husbands to turn themselves in. On April 20, authorities detained singer Cheikh MC for several hours at a gendarmerie facility for disturbing the public order. He had posted on his Facebook page that his wife was suffering from COVID-19 while the government was claiming that there were no cases of COVID-19 in the country.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. By law pretrial detainees may be held for no more than four months, although many were held longer. A magistrate or prosecutor may extend this period. Detainees routinely awaited trial for extended periods for reasons including administrative delay, case backlog, and time-consuming collection of evidence. Some extensions continued for several years. Defense attorneys occasionally protested such judicial inefficiencies. The NGO World Prison Brief, using 2015 data, reported that 29 percent of detainees were pretrial detainees.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Judicial inconsistency, unpredictability, and corruption were problems. Authorities generally respected court orders.
The law provides all defendants with the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and to a timely trial, but lengthy delays were common. The legal system incorporates sharia (Islamic law). Defendants are presumed innocent. Trials are by jury in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney. Indigent defendants have the right to counsel provided at public expense, although this right was rarely observed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Although the law provides for the assistance of an interpreter, free of charge, for any defendant unable to understand or speak the language used in court, this was not generally implemented. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There is an appellate process.
There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. Observers considered there to be two political prisoners: former president Sambi and former governor of Anjouan Salami. The government permitted access by human rights or humanitarian organizations.
Former president Sambi remained in pretrial detention for charges relating to corruption and his Economic Citizenship Passport program, which provided passports to thousands of stateless United Arab Emirates residents and others (see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government).
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through an independent but corrupt court system. By law individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Court orders were inconsistently enforced.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
In contrast to 2019, there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
The Independent Police Complaints Board (IPCB) is the body responsible for investigating police misconduct. The IPCB is an independent civilian oversight mechanism with a mandate within the security sector to receive and investigate complaints from the public and advise the leadership of the Sierra Leone Police.
On April 29, a riot broke out at Pademba Road Correctional Center in Freetown leading to 31 fatalities, including one corrections officer and 30 inmates. Thirty-two corrections officers and 21 inmates sustained injuries. After prisoners reportedly set fire to walls in storerooms and took hostages, security officials used live ammunition. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prison Watch indicated the inmates were protesting the perceived preferential treatment of high-profile detainees, while Amnesty International reported it reflected health concerns after the first COVID cases in the Prison were reported the previous day. In July, Sierra Leone Correctional Services (SLCS) authorities reported the riot was sparked by overcrowding, an announcement that court sessions would be suspended for one month, COVID-19 health restrictions, and reports of a COVID-19 case at the prison.
The IPCB opened an investigation into the July alleged killing by security officers of six individuals in Makeni. The victims were participating in a protest against the government’s relocation of a power generator and transformers from Makeni to Port Loko District to support the airport’s operations. Residents reportedly burned tires on the streets and threw rocks during the protest. Authorities used tear gas and live ammunition in response.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. NGOs reported, however, that security forces used excessive force to manage civil protests in Freetown and provincial town (see section 1.a.).
Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces, notably in the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). Observers noted police lacked training on crowd control and on human rights topics.
Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening because of food shortages; gross overcrowding due to an inefficient justice system and a lack of sufficient correctional facilities and personnel; physical abuse; lack of clean water; inadequate sanitary conditions; and a lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: The country’s 21 prisons, designed to hold 2,375 inmates, held 3,808 as of August. The most severe example of overcrowding was in the Freetown Male Correctional Center, designed to hold 324 inmates, which instead held 1,407 individuals. Some prison cells measuring six feet by nine feet held nine or more inmates. The NGO Prison Watch and the SLCS reported that 13 prisons and detention centers were moderately overcrowded.
In most cases pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners. The SLCS reported that as of August, of the 3,808 persons held in prisons and detention centers, 1,289 had been convicted. The SLCS also reported one inmate jailed in 2007 had yet to appear in court.
SLCS authorities and human rights observers reported detention conditions remained below minimum international standards because of overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and insufficient medical attention. Conditions in police station holding cells were poor, especially in small stations outside Freetown. Lack of adequate physical facilities created life-threatening conditions for detainees. Holding cells in some facilities were often dark, with little ventilation, and inmates slept on bare floors, using mattresses and clothes as bedding. The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) reported poor toilet facilities in some correctional centers. Inmates were often forced to use buckets as toilets.
Cells often lacked proper lighting, bedding, ventilation, and protection from mosquitoes. For security reasons authorities refused to allow inmates to sleep under mosquito nets, requiring inmates to use chemical repellants instead. Most prisons did not have piped water, and some inmates lacked sufficient access to potable drinking water. In September 2019 observers reported that in some facilities to avoid overcrowding in the common areas, authorities confined inmates to their cells for long periods without opportunity for movement.
Prison authorities issued bedding and blankets to inmates at the Freetown Female and Male Correctional Centers. Some mattresses were on the floor at the Male Correctional Center. Conditions in detention centers, including lighting and ventilation, were generally better for female inmates than for male inmates.
As of August the SLCS reported 53 deaths in prisons and detention facilities due to malaria, respiratory infections, skin infections, hypertension, asthma, pneumonia, pulmonary tuberculosis, kidney diseases, sickle cell disease, and typhoid fever. The HRCSL confirmed the causes of death as reported by the SLCS were further related to prison conditions, such as overcrowding and poor hygienic conditions. The SLCS reported the government provided adequate sanitation and medications for inmates. In cases of medical emergencies, prison authorities transferred inmates to the nearest government hospitals. Officials referred female inmates to local hospitals for special care, and government hospitals complied with the requests.
Some of the victims in the April 29 Pademba Road prison riot may also have been due to prisoner-on-prisoner violence (see section 1.a.).
Prison authorities and the HRCSL reported there was no discrimination against inmates with disabilities. The HRCSL reported it had no information regarding abuse of inmates with disabilities.
The HRCSL and Prison Watch reported a shortage of prison staff, which resulted in a lack of security that endangered inmates’ safety. The March 2019 inmate violence in Bo led to the death of one inmate. According to the SLCS, the case against 13 inmates who allegedly participated in the killing was pending trial at the high court in Bo. Prison authorities in Bo further reported that some of the suspects have completed their initial prison sentences but are still under detention pending a ruling from the high court.
As of August Prison Watch and the HRCSL reported that no prison or detention center facility held male and female inmates together.
The HRCSL reported on September 14 that there were no juveniles in correctional facilities across the country. Nonetheless, it was often difficult to confirm the ages of inmates due to the pervasive lack of official documentation, which resulted in some juveniles being treated as adults.
Authorities sent most offenders younger than 18 to “approved schools” or reformatory institutions. According to the SLCS, although authorities made some effort to avoid detaining juveniles with adults, they frequently detained minors with adults in police cells while waiting to transfer them to juvenile facilities in Freetown. There are two remand homes for juvenile suspects and one approved school for convicted juveniles. Authorities acknowledged these facilities lacked resources to function properly.
In juvenile facilities detainees had adequate access to food and water, but did not have access to education and were sometimes unable to attend court hearings due to lack of transportation.
According to SLCS authorities, as of August there were four infants in correctional centers across the country, most of whom were born in prison and initially kept there with their mothers. Once such children were weaned, authorities released them to family members or to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs, which placed them in foster care. SLCS authorities in Freetown, Bo, and Kenema provided government-funded child-care centers for children of inmates.
Administration: There was no prison ombudsman, but senior prison officials were available to respond to complaints. Inmates reportedly refrained from filing complaints directly with prison authorities because they believed such actions would spur retaliation by judicial authorities.
Authorities permitted regular family visits and provided a telephone for inmates to communicate with their relatives. The SLCS has visibly painted on murals the hours of inmate visitation and communicated that visits are free of charge.
Prison rights advocacy groups and the HRCSL reported that authorities generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment of inmates.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. International monitors had unrestricted access to the detention centers and police holding cells. The HRCSL and Prison Watch monitored prisons monthly. The SLCS also freely allowed other NGOs such as Humanist Watch to monitor prison conditions on a regular basis.
Improvements: In recent years the SLCS has improved its facilities, policies, and practices in an effort to align with international standards for the treatment of inmates. Solar boreholes were constructed in the Port Loko, Bo, and Moyamba district correctional facilities. Recent SLCS security policies, such as key control, were complemented by expanded inmate programs, including access to information, increased visitation hours, and expanded services such as educational and vocational training opportunities.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the HRCSL indicated that police occasionally arrested and detained persons arbitrarily, including members of an opposition party. The government allows the SLP and the chiefdom police to hold suspects in police detention cells without charge or explanation for up to three days for suspected misdemeanors and up to 10 days for suspected felonies. The NGO Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) reported cases of illegal detentions at several police stations and the Freetown Male Correctional Center. Chiefs sometimes subjected both adults and children to arbitrary detention and imprisoned them unlawfully in their homes or “chiefdom jails.”
The law requires warrants for searches and arrests of persons taken into custody on criminal grounds, but arrests without warrants were common. CHRDI reported some arrests were made without warrants and that the SLP in some instances did not follow proper arrest procedures.
The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the reason for their arrest within 24 hours and charge them in court within 72 hours for suspected misdemeanors or within 10 days for suspected felonies. Detainees, however, were not always informed promptly of charges brought against them. According to Prison Watch, authorities routinely brought remanded (detained pretrial) inmates to court on a weekly basis to be remanded again to circumvent the legal restrictions.
The judiciary applied the bail system inconsistently and sometimes demanded excessive bond fees.
Detainees have the right to access family members and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Lawyers generally were allowed unrestricted access to detainees. According to the director of public prosecution and the office of the Legal Aid Board, an estimated 80 percent of inmates received legal representation, while the CHRDI reported 40 percent of accused persons received legal representation. Only defendants in the military justice system had automatic access to attorneys, whose fees the Ministry of Defense paid. Although there were 53 active state counsels (public defenders), the majority worked in the capital and were often overburdened, poorly paid, and available only for more serious criminal cases.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of individuals held for questioning for longer than permissible under law.
On May 1, police arrested Sylvia Blyden, former minister of social welfare, gender and children’s affairs and a journalist and opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party member, for alleged libel offenses involving social media posts critical of the government. Police detained her beyond the 72 hours legal limit provided by law. On May 29, authorities released Blyden on bail but then re-arrested her June 2 for allegedly violating bail conditions. On June 25, police released Blyden again on bail. The charges were dropped after the law criminalizing seditious libel was amended in August.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. As of September of the 3,808 persons held in prisons and detention centers, 33 percent were convicted, 41 percent were in pretrial detention, and 26 percent were on trial. The SLCS attributed the high percentage of pretrial detainees to a severe shortage of legal professionals. A donor-funded program identified other specific reasons for extensive pretrial detention, such as magistrates and judges not consistently granting bail when warranted, the Ministry of Justice Law Officers Department often failing to bring indictments, and inadequate information exchange and case management across the criminal justice system. Pretrial and remand detainees spent an average of three to five years in pretrial detention before courts examined their cases or filed formal charges. In extreme cases the wait could be as long as 12 years.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. Observers, including NGOs, assessed the judiciary maintained relative independence.
In addition to the formal court system, local chieftaincy courts administer customary law with lay judges, primarily in rural areas. Appeals from these lower courts are heard by the magistrate courts. Paramount chiefs in villages maintained their own police and courts to enforce customary local law. Chieftaincy police and courts exercised authority to arrest, try, and incarcerate individuals. Traditional trials were generally fair, but there was credible evidence that corruption influenced many cases. Paramount chiefs acting as judges routinely accepted bribes and favored wealthier defendants. In response in 2019 the government sent 36 paralegals to rural areas to provide access to justice and training for chiefdom officials.
The limited number of judicial magistrates and lawyers, along with high court fees, restricted access to justice for most citizens. Since 2019, six new judges were appointed to the High Court and one to the Court of Appeal.
The military justice system has a different appeals process. For summary hearings the defendant may appeal for the redress of a complaint, which proceeds to the next senior ranking officer, while the civilian Supreme Court hears appeals in a court-martial. According to civil society members and government interlocutors, corruption is prevalent in the redress system.
Authorities at all levels of government generally respected court orders.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial for all defendants, but this right was not always enforced.
Defendants enjoy the right to a timely trial, but the lack of judicial officers and facilities regularly resulted in long trial delays. Some cases reportedly were adjourned 20 to 30 times. Trials are public, but NGOs reported that due to corruption they were not always fair. Defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence. While defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, some defendants were not afforded access to counsel. Although the law provides for attorneys at public expense if defendants are not able to afford their own attorneys, these attorneys were overburdened with cases, and often defendants who could not afford to pay for an attorney had no access to legal aid prior to trial.
Defendants were not always informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and did not always have access to free assistance from an interpreter as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare their defenses, although they generally did not have adequate facilities to do so. Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Police officers, many of whom had little or no formal legal training, prosecuted some of cases on the magistrate level. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Although the law provides defendants with the right to appeal, delays in the appeals process were excessive, sometimes lasting more than two years. The law extends these rights to all defendants.
Traditional justice systems continued to supplement the central government judiciary, especially in rural areas, in cases involving family law, inheritance, and land tenure. The customary law guiding these courts was not codified, however, and decisions in similar cases were inconsistent. Paramount chiefs have authority over civil matters, such as land disputes, and referred criminal cases to police for investigation and prosecution. Local chieftains at times exceeded their mandates and administered harsh punishments.
Laws on gender equality were inconsistently enforced, and many traditional courts continued to ignore the rights of women regarding family law and inheritance. Juveniles were afforded few rights in the traditional justice system.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Both the central government judiciary and customary law courts handled civil complaints. Corruption influenced some cases and judgments, and awards were inconsistent. Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through regular access to domestic courts. Individuals may also seek redress from regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions. There were, however, reports the government used technology to surveil a journalist and opposition activist (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest–case of Sylvia Blyden).