By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) , and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) have expressed grave concern over the proliferation of hate speeches and diatribes that have rocked the country in recent times.
The country has recently seen a flood in hateful , inciting statements on social media perpetrated by some individual in the country and others living overseas with the aim of creating disturbances and mayhem in the West African nation which has witnessed one of the bloodiest civil war in modern history which ended in 2002.
The commission in statement said as a statutory body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights of all in the country pursuant to Section 7 (1) of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone Act of 2004 adding that for such mandate to be smoothly carried out, and for the enjoyment and fulfilment of any right- be they civil and political; economic, social and cultural; and development rights; peace and national security must be paramount and must go undisturbed.
“The HRCSL in its general monitoring role has been monitoring different social media platforms which have recently been flooded with hate messages and diatribes from Sierra Leoneans both within and outside the country with the aim of inciting civil and political unrest and ultimately bringing the State to a standstill,’’ HRCSL said.
The HRCSL said it vehemently and roundly condemns all forms of hate messages and diatribes and all the pioneers and promoters of same and as such calls on those persons behind such unpatriotic practices to desist from such acts forthwith stating that they have been one of the foremost defenders of free speech as it consistently called on successive governments through its Annual State of Human Right Reports, strategic and media engagements to repeal the criminal and seditious libel law contained in the Public Order Act of 1965- a call that has now been recently adhered to by government.
“HRCSL however abhors messages of hate and division as they do not constitute the free speech envisaged by the repeal nor do they constitute the spirit and intendment contained in section 25 subsection (1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article19 (1) & (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Accordingly, Article 20 (1) & (2) of the ICCPR clearly prohibits propaganda that promotes war and any advocacy that promotes violence. Similarly, Subsection (2) of Section 25 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 provides for exemptions in respect of freedom of expression where the circumstance has to do with security of the state, public safety, public order, morality and health; and for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons,’’ HRCSL added.
The Commission called on every citizen at home and abroad to desist from producing and promoting all forms of hate messages and diatribes thus admonishing citizens to be law abiding, discipline and participate in and defend all democratic processes and practices responsibly as per law required whilst assuring the public of its unwavering commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights of all.
Meanwhile, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in a statement also expressed concerned about the proliferation of videos, audios, and voice notes with incendiary messages on social media which they said have the potential to divide the nation and cause unrest in the country.
According to SLAJ while they will at all times stand to defend the fundamental human right of all citizens to free speech as an essential element of our democracy, “citizen journalists”, political enthusiasts and members of the public who have been abusing social media should know that this right is not absolute.
“Freedom of speech is like a kitchen knife. When you take it out of the kitchen for other purposes like stabbing, then it becomes harmful to the victim and to yourself,” said President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla. SLAJ called on all media houses not to allow their platforms to be used as conduits for the dissemination of incendiary messages, fake news and disinformation thus calling on all journalists and other citizens not to share any such messages, if they receive them.
The journalist body also appealed to the leaderships of all political parties, political activists and citizens in general to condemn and desist from making and spreading expressions in every shape or form that promote hate and division among Sierra Leoneans.
“It’s not just the responsibility of the Government of Sierra Leone to maintain and promote law and order, and peace and stability in the country. It’s equally the responsibility of all political parties, democratic institutions and citizens,” added Nasralla.“ The Government must work with the leaderships of all political parties and other stakeholders to look at the root causes of this dangerous trend and make genuine and honest efforts to address them collectively.”
On Monday, the Office of National security warns against anything that will disrupt the country’s peace and security stating thatintelligence estimate indicates that individuals , known and unknown have been engaging in activities including making pronouncements that are tantamount to disrupting the peace and stability of Sierra Leone .
“The security sector wishes to assure the general public of its avowed commitment to protect the citizens , their well-being and the integrity of Sierra Leone,’’ the statement reads.
The national security body assured the public that it is in full control and people are encouraged to go about their normal business without any cause for alarm .
The ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) on Tuesday condemned the incendiary and hate speeches from supporters from their party thus threatening actions against on any of their supporters involved in the act.
“The Secretariat of the Sierra Leone People’s Party is concerned about the ugly spate of incendiary and hate speeches mostly broadcast through social media channels especially WhatsApp. We are also aware of similar messages seemingly coming from supporters of our party,’’ the party’s statement said.
According to the party, they wished to make it known that it condemns unequivocally and unreservedly all forms of hate and incendiary statements aimed at undermining the peace and serenity of the country and its citizens adding that as a party they wished to distance themselves completely from the hate speeches broadcast by some of its overzealous supporters directed at the APC or some of its members in an audio shared on social media on Monday 24th August 2020.
“The party will fully investigate and take stringent disciplinary action against any of our member who is found wanting of making any incendiary or hate comment which has the tendency of causing discord in our beloved nation,’’ the party’s statement added.
On 8th May 2020, in a national address to the nation , the President accused the main opposition All Peoples Congress party (APC) as behind the various violent incidents an incident the opposition party strongly denied.
“ Evidence emerging from investigations have named known local leaders and members of the APC as being responsible for inciting , planning , financing , mobilising and in some cases actively participating in violent terrorist attacks against the people of this country,’’ President Bio said in his nation address in May.
Critics say Bio’s statement referring to the main opposition party and its supporters as terrorist was in itself a hate speech . “Political hypocrites : How come you fail to understand that calling opposition ‘’terrorism’’ was/is an act of speech?’’wrote popular commentator , and journalist Chernoh Alpha Bah, on his Facebook account