Sierra Leone threat: Stop activism or we’ll spread ebola rumor

Front Line Defenders, which supports human rights activists, issued this press release on Aug. 28:

Sierra Leone – Threats against human rights defender Ms Mary Conteh

Location of Makeni in Siera Leone. (Map courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Location of Makeni in Siera Leone. (Map courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

On 28 August 2014, human rights defender Ms Mary Conteh received a call from an unknown number where the caller threatened to spread false information that she contracted Ebola if she does not stop her human rights work. This comes just two days after she recorded a police statement denouncing the threats pronounced against her as a result of her recent investigation on reports of misuse of public funds.

Mary Conteh is the national coordinator for Women’s Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights (WOCEGAR), an organisation based in Makeni, in the northern part of Sierra Leone. Due to their work on women’s rights, women’s empowerment, good governance and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, WOCEGAR and its national coordinator have been the subject of instances of harassment.

In early August 2014, Mary Conteh and her colleagues received information suggesting that members of the Sierra Leonean parliament had each received from the government a grant estimated at US$20,000 for the purpose of fighting the outbreak of Ebola in their respective constituencies.

On 24 August, she visited the office of Mr. Osman O. Sesay, who represents the constituency in which WOCEGAR is located, to inquire about reports suggesting that the grant assigned to his constituency had not been used for its original purpose. The member of parliament reportedly argued that the fund was placed on a personal account and that he was not accountable to any member of the local human rights groups. As the discussion proceeded, he reportedly started hurling insults at her and eventually threatened that he could make her disappear.

On 4 August 2014, during a radio interview Mary Conteh had criticised the way relevant civil society groups such as her own were being sidelined in the fight against Ebola. In what the human rights defender considered as an angry response to the interview, the Resident Minister in the North, Mr Ali Kamara, during a stakeholder meeting organised two days after the interview, on 6 August, reportedly threatened that since the country was going through an emergency period, he would not hesitate to order the arrest of journalists and human rights defenders who criticise governmental action as well as the closing of their organisations.

Following the threats proffered against her on 6 and 24 August, Mary Conteh recorded a statement with the police on 26 August. Two days later, she received a call from a masked number threatening to spread false information that she contracted Ebola if she continued her work.

Front Line Defenders is concerned at the threats directed against human rights defender Mary Conteh, as they appear to be the direct result of her legitimate work in support of good governance and human rights in Sierra Leone.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in the Sierra Leone to:

1. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Mary Conteh;

2. Take measures to ensure that public officials, including government representatives and members of parliament, recognise the legitimate role of human rights defenders and refrain from issuing threats against them;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the Sierra Leone are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

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