Police 'impunity' goes on in Sierra Leone: Amnesty
Freetown's new government has failed to restore rights to freedom of assembly and to prosecute police officers who killed protesters under the previous regime, a leading rights group warned on Tuesday.
"The authorities must ensure and promote the right of individuals to peacefully assemble without fear for their safety," Solomon Sogbandi, director of Amnesty International Sierra Leone, said.
"Sierra Leone's new government has a key opportunity to implement reforms that would help the police manage demonstrations effectively and safely, restore the public's trust in the security forces," he added.
Nine protesters were killed and 80 injured over the past 10 years as police fired live ammunition into peaceful crowds, while impunity in such cases was widespread, the Amnesty report said.
"Over the past decade, peaceful anti-government protests have repeatedly been refused permission or violently dispersed," Sabrina Mahtani, a West Africa researcher for Amnesty, told reporters in Freetown.
New president Julius Maada Bio's party, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), repeatedly accused the previous government of restricting freedom of assembly while in opposition.
"Corruption and indiscipline in Sierra Leone Police will not be entertained by my government," Bio said in May, adding there was low public confidence in the force.
He took office in early April after a tumultuous election campaign, ending a decade-long rule by the All People's Congress (APC).
Yet protesters still require permission from the police to assemble -- a right sparsely granted in recent years.
Thirty-nine people are currently on trial after they were arrested during protests in 2015 and 2016, the report said.
"We are aware of polices abuses against peaceful protesters and measures have been taken to discipline the force," Emmanuel Santigie Kargbo, who heads the police complaints department, told AFP.
"We are currently restructuring the police force to avoid unnecessary use of force against the people," he added.
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone revealed that police used live ammunition in an August 2016 protest in the town of Kabala, killing two people and wounding several more.
Last year, a student was killed and several others injured at a university near the southern city of Bo after police fired tear gas and live bullets during protests over a lecturers' strike.
No police officers were charged for the offences alleged in the report, Amnesty said.