Sierra Leone: Arrest of activist during peaceful protest demonstrates the urgency to reform restrictive laws

Following the arrest and interrogation  today of activist Edmond Abu during a peaceful protest in Freetown, Sierra Leone,  Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International West Africa researcher, said:
“The arrest of Edmond Abu for participating in peaceful protest just months after the new government came into power shows the urgency of reforming restrictive laws on peaceful assembly. The authorities must end arbitrary arrest of protesters and uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”
“The Public Order Act 1965 is overly broad and gives too much discretion to the police. The new government claimed it was a victim of such laws and repressive policing whilst in opposition and now has a key opportunity to make history by making sure Sierra Leone’s laws on peaceful assembly are fully consistent and compatible with international human rights standards.”
Activist Edmond Abu was arrested in Freetown while participating in a protest against an increase in fuel prices. He was taken to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Headquarters and released after being interrogated.
A police spokesperson told Amnesty International that Mr. Abu had written to the police the day before, notifying them he was going to hold a protest, and they had told him to discuss the matter with them but he went ahead with his protest. The police stated they were complying with the Public Order Act 1965.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa underline that peaceful assembly is a right and not a privilege, and that the responsibility is on authorities to facilitate peaceful assemblies. Notification requirements should not be a hidden obstacle to the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Amnesty International launched a report on 3 July 2018 in Freetown, A Force for Good? Restrictions on Peaceful Assembly and Impunity for Excessive Use of Force by the Police which urged the new government to reform restrictive laws and take steps to strengthen police accountability.