By Hashim Williams and Finda Sokochendeh…
Sierra Leone’s Internal Affairs Minister, former defence minister Paolo Conteh has told a local radio in Freetown that the death penalty should be reactivated for people found guilty of murder in order to curb gang violence.
Sierra Leone still has the death penalty by hanging for those found guilty of murder and treason. But no one has been put to death since 1998.
“I have given instructions to the prison officers to clean and ready the tools and machines used to kill people, as reckless killing is on the increase. We have lost a lot of people through reckless killing and ended wasting resources feeding such prisoners for several years. This is unacceptable,” the minister told Radio Democracy in the capital Freetown.
The minister’s comments come in the midst of an increase in gang and political violence in the country.
Last week, two Sierra Leoneans were sentenced to death by hanging after they were found guilty of murdering a popular radio DJ in Freetown.
Paolo Conteh, who is also a retired major in the country’s military, said the death penalty will scare others who think taking others lives carelessly is justifiable. “It’s in the bible, an eye for an eye. Our local people say kill a dog in front of another to know that death is real,” the Minister said.
This week, the Sierra Leone police issued a public notice to offer a cash payment of $400 to anyone providing information leading to the capture of any gang leader.
Nevertheless, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Palo Conteh has instructed the Director General of the Male Correctional Facility, Sanpha Bilo Kamara to ensure that the gallows are oiled, cleaned and ready to be used, because the death penalty is still in our law books.
He gave this instruction during his recent visit to the correctional facility in Freetown, where he discovered that the gallows were covered with dust and corrosion, the minister explained during a radio interview with 98.1fm at the ‘Good Morning Salone’ Show on Tuesday morning.
Speaking with the Male Correctional Facility, Director General, he said, “you’ve heard what the minister has said and I can’t say anything beyond what the minister has said in the media.”
He also claimed that the information voiced by the Internal Affairs Minister is “classified.” Nevertheless, the DG wittily affirmed that he has been instructed by his “superior” to clean the gallows and get it ready.
Furthermore, the DG also pointed out that the gallows had not been used for quite a while now. In a recent counter terrorism validation workshop at the Police Officers Mess in Kingtom Barracks, Freetown, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Joseph F Kamara commented about the alarming spate of murder cases in Sierra Leone, especially in Freetown and the urgent need to address it.
“One thing that struck deep in my heart is the escalation of murder rate. When I did my computation it appears as if every two weeks somebody is murdered in Freetown. I think it is high time we sit and try to reconfigure our designs, and management of crimes … every other day a murder file will come across my desk and that is a real serious concern,” he averted.
In a phone interview with the AG, he revealed, they were on the verge of repealing the death penalty…” but however explained that “the public seems not to want that now…” because of recent happenings.“We want to set examples – this is getting too serious. Elections are merely round the corner, we cannot tolerate such spate of violence to continue.”
The AG said the death penalty is still in our law books and could be invoked whenever it’s called upon. Though Amnesty International, Sierra Leone is calling for the repeal of the death penalty, the Executive Director of Amnesty International in Sierra Leone, Solomon Sogbandi has said that recent wave of killings is posing a very serious challenge to the call for the abolition of death penalty,
Paolo Conteh’s diabolic call for the return of the death penalty in Sierra Leone has brought in some supports and opposition for such a form of capital punishment. One of his followers and advocates in support of such a call, Mr Moses Ben Kanu explained; “The stage is not set but we must start elsewhere to curb the rampant crime rate in sierra Leone . And Death penalty is not part of the problems but a solution to such mess”.
Daniel S Morlu is trongly against Paolo Conteh’s moves. “Sierra Leoneans as educated as you claimed to be are you supporting such a reckless proposal ? This shows that your APC party is not fit to rule Sierra Leone . Death penalty has never been a deterant to cub violence. Please check various studies and findings on such . There are billion ways to track gangs and bad people in ourcommunities . What are the police doing in barracks? Why not bring the military out of barracks to help join in the surveillance of these different groups and gangstars”, he added.
As for Alimamy Bubu Kamara, there is a different interpretation on the current debate. “With our messed-up justice system, the chances of hanging an innocent convicted killer are greater. Equally, we can’t afford the cost of keeping a convicted killer in prison for life. Our society is still crude and illogical. People respond effectively to the “tit for tat” philosophy. The “buff case” syndrome promoted even at the highest political level ensured impunity and probably created an outcome for all this increased gang related killings. Even the church’s preach the “fire for fire” philosophy”.
The Swiss criminologist cum journalist and teacher, Tamba Korgba-Faiduwoh, who is also a Sierra Leonean national, denounced the death-penalty campaign of Minister Paolo Conteh; “This is a very wrong method of curbing and eradicating crime. Why was death penalty not applied to the crimes of the powerful and the privileged, when millions of donors’ US dollars were mismanaged and shared among the political elites of the system that be?”
Mr Korgba-Faiduwoh further explained that” restorative or rehabilitative justice is far better and successful than retributive justice or capital punishment. The very socio-economic system that leads people to abusive acts should reform itself, before beheading the victims of its making”. The criminologist concluded that the “death penalty is not a societal response to fighting criminality. Corruption, mismanagement of state funds, massive youth unemployment, gender-inequality, nepotism or tribalism, injustice, unconstitutional rule, abuse of women and children and the like are common factors that do breed deviant behaviour. I hope our minister is aware of the fact that “none is born a criminal but the society makes him so”.
Donald Kallon supported the criminologist’s opinion and emphasised;”thanks brother Faiduwoh. Pure hypocrisy. Why not execute those who have swindled millions of dollars and depleted the national coffers? What has Paolo done to criticize the government unconstitutional rule?
In his legal observation, the Sierra Leonean based civil right activist and lawyer, Mr Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai pointed out; “There is a clarion call for the reinstatement of the death penalty in Sierra Leone in recent months, particularly so after a spate of unlawful killings from thieves, gangs and cliques in the city. For the records, I am against any punishment by death. It is outdated, inhuman, violates international human rights law, and victims could be innocent. There is no justification for the killing of another, in the same way killing one for killing another has never deter murder. The increased in violence depicts serious social problems that should be addressed”.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) and major human rights organisations are closely monitoring the situation in Sierra Leone.