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Sierra Leone
10.11.05
Urgent Interventions

Sierra Leone: Developments in the investigation into Mr. Harry Yansaneh's death

New information - SLE 001 / 0805 / OBS 061.2

Investigation / Death
Sierra Leone

November 10, 2005

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sierra Leone.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Forum of Conscience (FOC), a Sierra Leonean human rights NGO, about the following developments in the investigation in the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh, former acting editor of the independent newspaper For di people, and member of the Sierra Leone Chapter of Amnesty International and of the National League for Human Rights.

Mr. Yansaneh had died on July 28, 2005, as a result of violent beatings he had been subjected to on May 10, 2005, by a group of allegedly hired men and family members of Mrs. Fatmata Hassan, a Member of Parliament for the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), a newly appointed member of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as the owner of the building housing For di people (See background information).

According to the information received, on November 7, 2005, a press conference was organised between members of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and officers of the Law Officers Department of the Ministry of Justice. Mr. Francis M. Carew, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Septimus Kaikai, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mr. Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, President of SLAJ, and numerous journalists attended the conference.

During the event, Mr. Kargbo asked for more information about the investigation into the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh, following the inquest that was set up by the government to investigate the cause of his death (see background information), as, to date, the suspects have still not been charged to court.

In his response, the Attorney General disclosed and read a letter written by the Chief Justice, Head of the Judiciary, that was addressed to him, in which he stated that the coroner in charge of the inquest, Magistrate Adrian Fischer, had not submitted his report to the Office of Director of Public Prosecution (Ministry of Justice), which should include signed testimonies from witnesses, and which according to law should be used to prosecute the matter in court. Nonetheless, Magistrate Adrian Fischer did submit his verdict on August 26, 2005, and ordered that the suspects be arrested (see background information). After reading the letter, the Attorney General said that, as a consequence, he could not charge the suspects to court.

The Observatory is very preoccupied by these facts which raise doubts about the will of Sierra Leonean authorities to sanction the authors of Mr. Yansaneh’s death. As a consequence, the Observatory fears that these developments might lead to a closure of the case in Mr. Yansaneh’s death, and calls upon the authorities of Sierra Leone to conduct a fair, impartial and independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh, in order to identify the perpetrators, bring them to justice and pronounce sentences proportional to the gravity of the crime.

Background information:

On May 10, 2005, Mr. Harry Yansaneh was beaten in his office in Freetown by a group of allegedly hired men and family members of Mrs. Fatmata Hassan. The group threatened to kill Mr. Yansaneh, and violently beat him, which led to tremendous bleeding. They also vandalised the equipment of For di people when they sought to forcibly evict the newspaper from the office it had occupied over the last ten years. These events reportedly took place because of the criticism of the government the newspaper had regularly made.

In early June, Mr. Yansaneh was admitted for eight days at the Cupid Hospital, in Freetown, and again on July 18, 2005, where he died on July 28, 2005, reportedly of kidney problems, probably due to complications from injuries sustained from the beatings to which he had been subjected.

An inquest, that was instituted by the government at the request of SLAJ, lasted for about two weeks and ended on August 26, 2005. It comprised the coroner, Magistrate Adrian Fischer, and six jurors. Nineteen witnesses were called into testify. In submitting its final verdict, the jury, guided by Magistrate Fischer, concluded that Mr. Harry Yansaneh’s death was an involuntary manslaughter and declared that “having examined all the evidence in the inquest we have therefore unanimously come to a final conclusion that the death of Harry Yansaneh was unlawful and illegal”.

As a result, on August 26, 2005, in pursuance of Section 27 of the coroner’s act, the coroner ordered that arrest warrants be issued against Mrs. Fatmata Hassan, Mr. Ahmed Komeh, Mr. Bai Bureh Komeh, Ms. Aminata Komeh, her three children, Mr. Reginald Bull, Mrs. Hassan’s bodyguard and caretaker for the building housing For di people, and Mr. Olu Campbell, the property evaluator, who were also present at the time at the assault.

The CID of the Sierra Leone Police confirmed the arrests on the same day of Mrs. Hassan, Mr. Reginald Bull and Mr. Olu Campbell, and asserted that the police were now collaborating with Interpol for the immediate extradition of Messrs. Ahmed Komeh and Bai Bureh Komeh, and Ms. Aminata Komeh, who are believed to be currently in the United Kingdom.

On August 30, 2005, Mrs. Hassan, Mr. Bull and Mr. Campbell were released on bail at the High Court of Sierra Leone, after they were earlier denied bail at the Lower Court, pending further argument from legal representatives (both on the prosecution and the defence side).

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Sierra Leone and ask them to:
i. Ensure that the persons responsible for the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh be duly prosecuted under the relevant provisions of Sierra Leone’s criminal code, and that any criminal sentence imposed be proportional to the gravity of the criminal conduct found by the court;

ii. Ensure that Mr. Harry Yansaneh’s family receives adequate compensation;

iii. Guarantee under all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Sierra Leone;

iv. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, its article 9.3 (a), which provides that everyone has the right “to complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and governmental bodies with regard to violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, by petition or other appropriate means, to competent domestic judicial, administrative or legislative authorities or any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, which should render their decision on the complaint without undue delay”, and its article 12.2, which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Republic of Sierra Leone.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone and Minister of Defence, President Lodge, Hill Station, Freetown, Republic of Sierra Leone, Tel: +232-22-232101 / + 232 22 234 004; Fax : + 232 22 231 404 / 234 004, Email: info@statehouse-sl.org
  • Mr. Momodu Koroma, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Freetown, Republic of Sierra Leone, Fax: + 232 22 225 615
  • Prof. Septimus M. Kaikai, Minister of Information, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting: Fax: + 232 22 235512, Tel: + 232 22 240 911
  • Mr. F.M. Carew, Attorney General and Ministry of Justice, Guma Building, Freetown, Republic of Sierra Leone, Tel: + 232 22 229 303, Fax: c/o President Fax
  • Mr. Francis A Gabbidon, Ombudsman, Government of Sierra Leone, 84 Dundas Street, Freetown, Republic of Sierra Leone, Fax: + 232 22 224 509 / 224 439
  • Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in New York, 245 East 49th Street - New York, NY 10017, USA, Tel: + 212 688 1656 / 6748; Fax: + 212 688 49 24, Email: sierraleone@un.int or sierraleonemission@verizon.net.


Please also write to the embassies of the Republic of Sierra Leone in your respective country.


***
Geneva-Paris, November 10, 2005

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Email: observatoire@iprolink.ch
Tel and fax FIDH: 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / 01 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT: + 4122 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29
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