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July 17, 2018 | Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone campaigner arrested in first protest since Bio election

AFP
Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio, pictured in May 2018, marked his 100th day in office by hiking fuel prices, sparking protests in capital city Freetown.  By Sia KAMBOU (AFP/File)
Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio, pictured in May 2018, marked his 100th day in office by hiking fuel prices, sparking protests in capital city Freetown. By Sia KAMBOU (AFP/File)

Police in Sierra Leone on Tuesday arrested a campaigner and dispersed others who were protesting a hike in fuel prices, in the first such action since a new president came into power in April.

Earlier this month, leading rights group Amnesty International warned that the Julius Maada Bio administration had failed to restore the right to demonstrate and to prosecute police officers who killed protesters under the previous regime.

Edmond Abu, who heads the Native Consortium and Research Center, a think-tank, was arrested on Tuesday in rainy Freetown as he led a small march against the rise of fuel prices from 6000 Leones (0.67 euros) to 8000 Leones (0.89 euros).

"We are currently interrogating the protest leader at the Criminal Investigation Department for staging an unauthorised protest," police superintendent Brima Kamara told AFP in Freetown.

Police dispersed other protesters in the capital's business district and elsewhere because the demonstration was illegal, Kamara said.

The price hike was announced on July 13 as part of a wider budget released as Julius Maada Bio clocked 100 days in office.

"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 early July.

The ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) repeatedly accused the previous government of restricting freedom of assembly while in opposition.

President Bio 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.

Similar protests have erupted in neighbouring Guinea, severely disrupting the capital this week after the government upped the price of petrol by 25 percent.

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