‘The gal­lows are ready’

Sierra Leone re­con­sid­ers death penalty

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

For al­most 20 years, Sierra Leone has avoided us­ing the death penalty. But spurred by pub­lic out­rage over rit­ual mur­ders and gang vi­o­lence, the gov­ern­ment is mov­ing once again to hang of­fend­ers. The le­gal com­mu­nity be­lieves one sen­sa­tional case in par­tic­u­lar has driven the gov­ern­ment to con­sider re­sort­ing again to cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, a case they say was marred by po­lice in­com­pe­tence and a poorly han­dled trial.

On the last night of his life in May 2015, a slight young mu­si­cian known as DJ Clef played a rau­cous set at the home of a faith healer known for his high-so­ci­ety con­nec­tions and the tat­tooed faces of demons cov­er­ing his body. Clef-born Syd­ney David Buckle-was later found, with his or­gans and gen­i­tals miss­ing, by the road lead­ing to a mil­i­tary ceme­tery on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal, Freetown.

His death sick­ened a coun­try where a civil war and more re­cently Ebola have rav­aged so­ci­ety and the econ­omy, fir­ing up a huge Freetown fan base who adored his laid-back de­meanor and Afrobeat mixes. A drive for swift jus­tice was led by Mil­ton Coker, the pres­i­dent of the All Stars mu­sic col­lec­tive to which Clef be­longed. “Peo­ple who kill should be killed,” Coker said flatly in a re­cent in­ter­view with AFP. “It will de­ter oth­ers.” Baimba Moi Fo­ray, an in­flu­en­tial “ju-ju man”, or witch doc­tor, and an ac­com­plice were duly con­victed of his mur­der and sen­tenced to hang for their crimes in Septem­ber. If an ap­peal is un­suc­cess­ful, they could be­come the first since 1998 to face the gal­lows.

Bun­gled case?

Death row lawyer Sim­i­tie Lavaly said that be­cause of the me­dia buzz around the celebri­ties in­volved, po­lice felt pres­sure to find a per­pe­tra­tor fast, and bun­gled the case. “The po­lice did not do a thor­ough job and the only rea­son why they are con­victed is the me­dia around the case,” she told AFP.Lurid lo­cal sto­ries spec­u­lated over Fo­ray’s meth­ods and the fate of Buckle’s body parts, height­ened by the witch doc­tor’s al­leged con­nec­tions to in­flu­en­tial fig­ures in Sierra Leone and even an African pres­i­dent. “It was a prej­u­diced judge and jury,” Lavaly said, who were pre­sented with “hardly any” sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence.

De­spite such claims, se­nior of­fi­cials say a new bill is al­ready be­ing drafted to harden up the cur­rent leg­is­la­tion on vi­o­lent crime, spurred by a wave of pop­u­lar sup­port. In­te­rior Min­is­ter Palo Con­teh did not pull his punches in a re­cent in­ter­view with AFP. “I’ve in­structed the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Male Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity to en­sure that the gal­lows are oiled, cleaned and ready to be used,” Con­teh said. “We have not been ex­e­cut­ing con­victs due to a pres­i­den­tial mora­to­rium but con­sid­er­ing the in­creased law­less­ness and vi­o­lence in so­ci­ety we have to kill as pre­scribed by law,” Con­teh added.

Root causes

Rights groups say the gov­ern­ment’s pop­ulist turn avoids tack­ling the root prob­lems that fuel vi­o­lence in Sierra Leone: poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and cor­rup­tion. A 2004 truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion said the cen­tral cause of Sierra Leone’s hor­rific 1991-2002 civil war was “en­demic greed, cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism that de­prived the na­tion of its dig­nity and re­duced most peo­ple into a state of poverty.” The com­mis­sion rec­om­mended abol­ish­ing the death penalty as an “im­por­tant and sym­bolic de­par­ture from the past”, as suc­ces­sive govern­ments abused cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment to tar­get their en­e­mies.

More re­cently, Ebola rav­aged the frag­ile na­tion’s health sys­tem but also wrecked its econ­omy, leav­ing many young peo­ple job­less, homeless and fend­ing for them­selves. The US State Depart­ment has mon­i­tored a “steady in­crease in the num­ber of gangs and cliques in Freetown over the past five years” by un­em­ployed young peo­ple who form en­tourages around lo­cal hiphop artists. The gangs “in­creased crim­i­nal­ity and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior”, in­clud­ing mur­ders, make the pages of Sierra Leone’s news­pa­pers ev­ery day.

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