Public Outcry Intensifies Against SLP’s Shaving of LAJ’s Hair

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Alhaji Amadu Bah alias LAJ
Alhaji Amadu Bah alias LAJ

By Amin Kef-Ranger

As public outcry intensifies against the shaving of Alhaji Amadu Bah’s, popularly known as LAJ’s hair by the Sierra Leone Police, Legal Link, an organization that defends the rights of vulnerable groups in Sierra Leone, with Lawyer Rashid Dumbuya, as its Executive Director, has stated that it takes the greatest exception to the unprofessional conduct by the Sierra Leone Police with respect to the handling of an incident bothering on LAJ and his friends.

According to the Executive Director, it was alleged that LAJ and his friends were not only arrested and beaten up by the security forces over a fracas, but LAJ’s dreadlocks ( hair) were also forcefully cut off from his head by the Police while in detention.

He continued that despite the increased condemnation and outcry from both within and outside of Sierra Leone over such a travesty, the leadership of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) is still in defiance of issuing out at the very least a statement, taking full responsibility for the excessive display of force, torture and inhumane and degrading treatment by subordinates against LAJ, a popular musician and critic of the Government of Sierra Leone.

The Lawyer said the willful omission clearly depicts the level of impunity that is at play within the leadership of the Sierra Leone Police Force as well as the degree of non-accountability that prevails within the law enforcement architecture in the country.

He said it could be recalled that several trainings have been conducted for the Sierra Leone Police on how to manage situations of such nature and their application of the use of force and democratic policing to quell them down.

Lawyer Rashid revealed how the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone for example facilitated in time specialized training on the use of force in line with the UN Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms for over 30 Local Unit Commanders (LUCs) in the country.

He underscored how in that training, all the LUCs present did pledge that they will never authorize the use of unreasonable, unnecessary, and disproportionate force in their quelling down of riotous situations or against suspects in detention as was displayed by their South African Police counterparts over the Marikana mines revolt.

“As was emphasized during the training, even were provoked, the ‘UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials dictates that the repelling force to be expelled must be equal, reasonable, proportionate, and necessary in the given circumstance,” he pointed out.

He said admittedly, while they condemn the acts of LAJ and his friends for reacting in an uncivilized manner while in the Jeep at the petrol station as evidenced in the videos on social media, however,  they vehemently and unequivocally condemn the over-reaction of the Sierra Leone Police to cut off the hair of the Musician Rapper while in detention.

The result-oriented Lawyer said that noticeably also is the fact that even when the tensions had de-escalated, the callousness and unprofessionalism of the SLP became much more apparent.

He said while denial by the Sierra Leone Police over the cutting of LAJ’s hair still continues, video clips of interviews done by LAJ’s lawyer, father, and family members revealed that the musician’s dreadlocks (hair) have been shaved off; and there is also an outright resistance by the Sierra Leone Police to allowing them access to the suspect.

Lawyer Rashid said rumors even abound that LAJ is currently been tortured in a place called Benghazi, operated and managed by the Sierra Leone Police.

He said if those allegations are true, then such complicity by the Sierra Leone Police to deny access to the suspect and to further maintain a place by the name of Benghazi where the conspicuous patterns of torture is alleged to have been carried out amounts to a blatant violation of international, regional and domestic laws to which Sierra Leone is a party.

The Executive Director stated that LEGAL LINK, therefore, wants it to be known by the Government and leadership of the SLP that the act of shaving off LAJ’S hair alone, when measured by the standards of international law, clearly amounts to torture, inhumane and degrading treatment of a suspect for which the jurisdiction of the Treaty Body/ complaints mechanism of the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture (CAT) can be invoked and properly seized.

He said it is vital to further emphasize that the right to freedom of torture by the standards of the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) to which Sierra Leone is a signatory is a non-derogable right (Edgar-omnes) and a peremptory norm of Customary International Law.

“This means that under no circumstances can it be justified for the Police to torture any human being in a democratic society needless to talk about Artists, Musicians, and critics of the Government,” he added.

The pragmatic Lawyer pointed out that LEGAL LINK is of the opinion that all that the Police were mandated and required to do by law on that fateful day was to effect an arrest on all alleged offenders, including LAJ, investigate and charge them to court for public order offenses as enshrined under the Public Order Act of 1965 where the evidence was pregnant and overwhelming.

He said but for the police to have decided to engage in a frolic of their own and acted outside the remits of the law by overtly torturing and executing brutal and excessive force on a harmless musician in their custody, in such scale and magnitude, amounts to a violation of not only the UN Convention Against Torture but also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Luanda Guidelines and section 20 (1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.

He said as dictated by the Luanda Guidelines on Pre-Trial Detention, a  regional instrument which Sierra Leone has signed up, ‘suspects awaiting trial must be guaranteed their basic fundamental human rights while in detention.

“Any infraction or limitation towards the access to, and enjoyment of these rights by suspects will therefore amount to a violation of both international, regional and domestic law,” he averred adding that LEGAL LINK, therefore, urges the leadership of the SLP and the Government of  Sierra Leone to take full responsibility for the excesses that have occurred and to ensure the unconditional release of LAJ for immediate access to his lawyer,  family, and medical treatment.

He said they further call on the leadership of the SLP to bring to justice the officers that shaved off the hair of LAJ and also ensure full compensation to LAJ for violations of his fundamental human rights while in pre-trial detention as required by the Luanda Guidelines.

He again stated that additionally, they are calling on the Independent Police Complaints Board to open up an impartial and independent investigation over the torture, the inhumane and degrading treatment meted out on LAJ and to further ascertain whether Benghazi does exist as a torturing center of the Sierra Leone Police over innocent and unarmed citizens held in detention, awaiting trials.

The Executive Director maintained that going forward, LEGAL LINK wants to draw the attention of the ruling Government that Sierra Leone deteriorated about four places below in the World Peace Index Report of 2022 when compared to the previous year.

He said that underscores the need for a more peaceful, inclusive, and humane approach to be adopted in dealing with issues in the country so as to de-escalate tensions and potential conflicts between and amongst State and Non-State actors as the country approaches the 2023 elections.

In conclusion, he disclosed that as a preventive approach, LEGAL LINK will commit itself to publish a quarterly newsletter titled: ‘POLICE WATCH” to help showcase not only the excesses within the SLP but also the good developments and success stories within the security architecture of Sierra Leone.

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