By Amin Kef (Ranger)
The Ministry of Defense, in conjunction with the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), has initiated a Court Martial Pre-trial Session involving 27 RSLAF Personnel at Court No. 1 in the Main Law Court Building on Siaka Stevens Street, Freetown. This judicial action commenced on Monday, 8th January 2024, following the conclusion of Commanding Officers’ Investigations (COI) into the accused individuals. This development was officially communicated via a press release from the Office of the Directorate of Defence Public Relations & Information, Ministry Of Defence, Tower Hill, Freetown, on 8th January 2024.
The 88 charges leveled against the accused RSLAF Personnel are associated with their alleged involvement in the failed coup d’état on 26th November 2023. The allegations encompass a range of offenses, including but not limited to Mutiny, Failure to suppress mutiny, Murder, Aiding the enemy, Communicating with the enemy, and other relevant violations.
In a separate but related matter, adhering to the existing policies of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defense and RSLAF have concluded investigations involving 48 RSLAF Personnel, leading to the compulsory discharge of all 48 individuals. This action was taken due to their active membership in an illicit WhatsApp Group named the Joint Kalamera Peace and Security Network (JKPSN). Regulations within the MoD/RSLAF expressly forbid serving personnel from participating in pressure groups or engaging in politically charged discussions.
Members of this group were found to be involved in subversive activities aimed at destabilizing the democratically elected government of His Excellency the President and Commander-in-Chief of the RSLAF, Brigadier General (Retired) Dr. Julius Maada Bio. This conduct represents a flagrant breach of the Oath of Allegiance, RSLAF Rules, Regulations, and Policies. Furthermore, it has been established that the actions and conduct of these individuals as active members of an illegal WhatsApp group significantly affected the operational efficiency of the RSLAF and potentially eroded trust, management, and leadership within the command structure.
During the pre-trial on Monday 8th January, 2024, these 27 military personnel, including a Lieutenant Colonel, appeared before a court martial in relation to the November 26 2023 failed coup attempt in Sierra Leone. The officers face a total of 88 charges, spanning from mutiny and attempted government overthrow to theft of public property and murder.
Before the accused could enter pleas, a member fell ill, halting the proceedings. Consequently, the arraignment and further proceedings were adjourned to Wednesday, 10th January.
The court martial, presided over by Judge Advocate Marke Ngegba and comprised of seven military officers as court members is set to convene at the Main Law Court Building in Freetown.
The accused officers are charged in connection to the failed coup on November 26, 2023. In anticipation of the trial, a pre-trial hearing provided directives to both the Prosecution, led by Director of Public Prosecutions Osman Kanu, and the Defence, represented by a consortium of lawyers from the Law Officers’ Department and the Military.
During the pre-trial proceedings, Lawyer Julian Cole, representing the 17th accused, invoked Section 89 of the Armed Forces Act of Sierra Leone, advocating for the accused’s right to object to any court member before oath administration, stressing the importance of due process.
However, Lawyer I. Bangura, representing the 9th accused, highlighted his client’s medical condition of epilepsy. Lawyer Joseph A. K. Sesay for the State objected to this claim, urging the court to dismiss it due to a lack of medical evidence presented.
Judge Advocate Marke Ngegba upheld the objection, emphasizing the absence of substantiating medical reports regarding the 9th accused’s condition. He also sternly warned against any breaches of court protocol by press, social media entities, or legal representatives, asserting a commitment to taking action against any violations.
As the court prepares for the arraignment of the 27 military officers, the proceedings are poised to unfold amid meticulous adherence to legal procedures and safeguards, ensuring a fair trial for all involved.