Category: Press Releases

Kono Arrests: Women released after nearly six months

April 23rd, 2015 — 8:02am

Press Release from AdvocAid and CARL
Freetown, 20th April, 2015

AdvocAid and Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) acknowledge the decision of President Ernest Bai Koroma on Sunday 12 April 2015 to order the release of the two remaining women who were arrested in Kono in relation to a reported riot that took place in Kono in October 2014 over a suspected Ebola patient. The women were part of a group of people detained after an Executive Order was issued by President Koroma using his powers under the State of Emergency on 24 October 2014. Some of those arrested on the ‘executive orders’ were later released, with the two women and six men remaining in custody.  We note that the number of men from Kono currently in detention has now increased to 11.

The detainees were detained without charge in Pademba Road and Female Freetown Correctional Centre respectively, some eight hours drive away from their homes. They have no files or documentation to support  their detention and the police declined to investigate the matter as they have been detained under an Executive Order.

We raised this issue in January 2014, alongside other local and international organizations. AdvocAid, a legal aid organization representing the detainees, wrote to the President requesting their release or confirmation of refusal to release. We also wrote to the Acting Chief Justice requesting that an independent tribunal be constituted to review the continued detention which is the safeguard provided in Sierra Leone’s Constitution. However, despite these interventions, the procedural safeguards were not implemented.

“We are of course delighted that these 2 women have been released after almost 6 months detention without charge. They are relieved after their ordeal and looking forward to returning to their families and children,” said Simitie Lavaly, Executive Director of AdvocAid.

“However, we are disappointed that due process was not followed and their detention was not legally reviewed as provided by the Constitution. If there was sufficient evidence, they should have been charged to court and had a court determine their guilt. If this was done, perhaps they would have been released much sooner,” commented Ms Lavaly.

In a Press Release dated 12 April 2015, the President is said to have ordered the release of the women because “they were part of a group that defied regulations laid down as part of measures to control the Ebola virus.  This led to a spike in the number of Ebola cases in the district… Now that Kono has had more than 45 days without new cases, the President has graciously decided to order the release of the women”.

We are concerned, on the basis of this reasoning, that the remaining men have not also been so released.  “So if these men and women were arrested to ensure that Ebola health workers were not impeded in their work to defeat the virus, why then are the men still in custody?”, asks Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director of Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law.

We are particularly concerned because the due process in this matter has not been complied with under the Constitution of Sierra Leone. We believe that the rights of these people have been violated when they were arrested and that neither the President nor the Judiciary has taken any steps to comply with the provisions set out under section 29 subsection 17 of the Constitution. Furthermore, 11 citizens of Sierra Leone remain in custody for close to six months without recourse to a court of law.

Men and women have the same rights. Therefore, to release the women while continuing to hold the rest of the men in custody is discriminatory. We therefore call on the President to order the immediate release of all the other detainees, given that the purported reason for their arrest, the spike in Ebola cases in Kono, is no longer relevant.  Should the President fail to do so, we call on the Acting Chief Justice to constitute an independent tribunal to review the legality of their detention. Sierra Leone’s Constitution should not be ignored.


Find out more about AdvocAid and CARL‘s work.

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Concern at 8 Kono Residents Detained for Over 2 Months Without Charge – Urgent Press Release

January 20th, 2015 — 4:28pm

Criminal Justice Organisations call on the President to revisit and revoke his Executive Detention Order of 24 October 2014

On 24 October 2014 His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma signed an Executive Detention Order against 34 people using his powers under the State of Emergency. To date 2 women and 6 men remain detained in the Freetown Female Correctional Centre and Pademba Road Male Prison respectively; they have no warrants or documentation supporting their detention in prison and therefore no date when they will be released. They will remain so detained until it pleases His Excellency to order their release. The police have stated they believe they have no obligation to investigate the matter or charge these individuals because it is an Executive order. Their arrests relate to an alleged riot that took place in Kono in October 2014 over a contested Ebola burial. Two persons were also allegedly shot dead by police officers during the same incident but to date no one has been arrested for those killings, even though police investigations are reportedly ongoing. All detainees have now spent over two months and three weeks in custody following their arrests in Kono on 27 October 2014.

AdvocAid, Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law (CARL), Amnesty International Sierra Leone and Prison Watch, four criminal justice organisations working to promote and protect the rights of detainees in prisons and police stations across Sierra Leone, are deeply concerned by the continued detention of these men and women. They are without recourse to any of the constitutional safeguards provided under section 17 of Sierra Leone’s Constitution, such as the right to be brought before a competent criminal court within the constitutionally specified timescale. The only rights they currently have is to ask the President to release them and if he refuses, for that request to be reviewed within thirty days by an independent tribunal comprising of 3 very senior lawyers. The chairman of the review panel shall be appointed by the Chief Justice and the other 2 members nominated by the Sierra Leone Bar Association. As Sierra Leone is a signatory to several international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we believe this right to review an executive order detention under the State of Emergency is a fundamental human right that must be recognized and respected by our Government.

AdvocAid, which supports access to justice for women and girls, is particularly alarmed by the continued detention of the two women who say they were not involved in the incident that led to the issue of the presidential detention order and were not told at the time of their arrest the reason for their detention. They have never been asked to make a statement to the police. These women were detained at the Criminal Investigation Department in Freetown for 9 days before they were transferred to the Correctional Centre. They both have children about whose welfare they are concerned. On 9 January 2015 AdvocAid wrote officially to His Excellency requesting their release from detention as provided for by section 29(17) (a) of the Constitution but have not as yet received a response.

The aforenamed organizations therefore:

1. Call on His Excellency the President to revisit his Executive Detention Order and release the 8 detainees from custody under the Detention Order immediately or

confirm his refusal to release them so that the detained persons can seek a review of that refusal.

2. Call upon the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice that in the alternative if there is sufficient evidence, to ensure the individuals are charged to court without

delay and enabled to exercise their right to a fair trial.

3. Call on the Chief Justice, as head of the Judiciary and chief interpreter of the 1991 Constitution, to prepare to set up an independent and impartial tribunal comprising not more than three legal practitioners of not less than fifteen years standing to review the continued detention of the detainees as set out in section 29(17)(a) – (c).

4. Call on the Sierra Leone Bar Association to prepare to nominate the two legal practitioners of not less than fifteen years standing to form part of the panel to review the continued detention of the detainees as set out in section 29(17)(a) – (c)

5. Call on the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone to intervene with the President on behalf of these 8 detainees.

6. Call on the Sierra Leone Police and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone to fully investigate the circumstances leading to the alleged unlawful killings of two bystanders during the riot and hold the perpetrators accountable.

7. Call on the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone and other non-State criminal justice and human rights actors to thoroughly review section 29 of the Constitution and make appropriate recommendations to the Constitutional Review Committee so that no future State of Emergency detentions take place without adequate safeguards to protect the detention and appeal rights of detainees.

Dated 20 January 2015, Freetown, Sierra Leone

AdvocAid, 39 Brook Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Tel: +232 76 774710. Email:

Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Brook Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Tel: +232 76 365499. Email:

Amnesty International Sierra Leone, 42 Williams Street, Off Dundas Street, Freetown. Tel: +232 76 680213. Email:

Prison Watch Sierra Leone, Gabriel Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Tel: +232 76 680532. Email:

Notes to Editors:

1. ThePublicEmergency(Detention)Order2014ConstitutionalInstrumentNo.9of 2014 was signed by the President on 24 October 2014. This Order was gazetted on 4th December 2014.

2. Section 17 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 sets out the safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. Section 29 of the same Constitution sets out the provisions applicable during a State of Emergency.

3. For further information, contact Simitie Lavaly (Ms), Executive Director, AdvocAid on +232 76 774710 or Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director of CARL at +232 76 365499 or


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Help Prevent a School Girl from Spending Christmas in Police Detention

December 23rd, 2013 — 2:22pm

Fatmata is a young secondary school girl, around 18 years old, who is currently being held in police custody at Magburaka Police Station, Northern Sierra Leone. She has been held since 3 December 2013 without charge, way over the 10 day constitutional time limit.

 Fatmata was first arrested in February 2013 and charged with the murder of a relative. She was later detained in Magburaka Prison and represented by AdvocAid’s Makeni Duty Counsel, Benedict Jalloh. The Prosecution was unable to obtain an autopsy report on the Deceased and therefore could not proceed with their case. As a result, on 3 December 2013, Fatmata was discharged by Honourable Magistrate Gooding at Magburaka Magistrate Court. He held that the Prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case during the preliminary investigation stage.

 As soon as Fatmata left the court, thinking her ordeal had ended, she was re-arrested for the same offence and detained yet again in Magburaka Police Station. She is being detained whilst the Prosecution try and arrange for the necessary  autopsy report She has been detained for 20 days without charge, well over the 10 day constitutional time period, and it is not clear when or if she will be charged. It is challenging for AdvocAid to file a habeus corpus application as the High Court had gone on circuit to Port Loko and the Christmas period is approaching when the Courts do not sit.

 AdvocAid have been engaging the Magburaka Police, Makeni State Counsel, Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector General of Police  as well as the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone.

 We urge the Magburaka Police to discharge Fatmata or put her on bail given that they have exceeded the lawful detention time period and considering that the Magistrate discharged the case for lack of evidence. The Prosecution has had ample time to gather evidence in this matter and a young school girl should not suffer and have her rights violated because the Prosecution has failed to gather the necessary evidence.

 Fatmata’s life was suddenly stopped over 10 months ago when a close relative died. She has been in detention for over 10 months. We respectfully ask the Inspector General of Police and Director of Public Prosecutions to assist in ensuring that this young girl be freed and be reunited with her family for Christmas.  We encourage our fellow civil society activists to monitor the situation and intervene as appropriate.

AdvocAid is a civil society organization that provides access to justice and strengthened rights for girls and women in conflict with the law in Sierra Leone.

Head Office: 39 Upper Brook Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone,

+232 33 572526

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Urgent Press Release: Unconstitutional Detention of Alleged Electoral Malpractice Suspects by Sierra Leone Police

November 22nd, 2012 — 8:26pm

We, the following civil society organisations, AdvocAid, Amnesty International, Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law (CARL), L.A.W.Y.E.RS (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights & Social justice), and Prison Watch, strongly condemn the action of the Sierra Leone Police in detaining alleged election malpractice suspects beyond the 72 hours constitutional time limit prescribed in section 17(3) of the 1991 Constitution.


In particular, we would like to highlight the plight of 6 female suspects currently detained at the Criminal Investigation Department from about 1700 hours on Saturday 17th November 2012. Five of the female suspects were employed by NEC in various roles during the conduct of the elections. Of serious concern is the wellbeing of one of the detainees, who is a suckling mother of 17 month old twins. She has been denied access to her children since her arrest, which is a serious breach of the United Nations Minimum Standards on Detention of Female prisoners (known as the Bangkok Rules).
The Constitution provides that all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that they must be brought speedily before a competent authority to adjudicate on their guilt or innocence should the Sierra Leone Police believe they have sufficient evidence to charge their matters to court.
We, therefore, call on the Inspector-General of Police and the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice to immediately bring them before a competent court of law or release them on bail.
We are also calling on the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Christiana Thorpe, to speedily announce the results of the elections as all Law Enforcement and Security personnel are declining to comply with the rule of law and constitutional provisions due to the uncertainty being created by the delay in results being announced.
Finally, we are also calling on the international community to take note of these breaches of fundamental human rights during and after the electioneering period.
AdvocAid, Head Office: 39 Liverpool Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 33 572
Amnesty International, Freetown
Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law (CARL), 7 Percival Street,(3rd Floor), Freetown
L.A.W.Y.E.RS (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights & Social justice), Head Office: 11 Percival Street, Freetown. Tel: 076 820291
Prison Watch, Mends Street, Freetown

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AdvocAid’s work featured in IRIN news report

November 21st, 2012 — 5:16am

AdvocAid’s work, particularly our recent research report on Women, Debt and Detention, was featured in an IRIN news report (below).

SIERRA LEONE: Women, debt and detention

Juveniles in a police cell in a Sierra Leone, where women are being detained for owing debt

FREETOWN, 11 October 2012 (IRIN) – Many Sierra Leonean women who are unable to repay small debts end up in prison for want of decent legal representation after their creditors report them to the police, meaning that civil disputes turn into criminal cases.

An estimated 10 percent of all charges issued by the Sierra Leonean police involve the failure to repay small debts.

The criminalization of debt upsets the livelihoods of the accused who are mostly petty traders. Their children at times are forced to live with them in detention and their incarceration often breaks up families and deepens poverty, said Advocaid, a Sierra Leonean civil society group helping women and children offenders.

Ignorance of legal rights and an outdated law contribute to the trend in which debt disputes turn into criminal cases. The crime of “fraudulent conversion” is based on Sierra Leone’s 1916 Larceny Act. The charge relates to a person’s inability to repay debts.

“Why are you serving a five-year prison sentence when you owe somebody just US$100,” Advocaid’s interim director Simitie Lavaly told IRIN. “By just providing a lawyer you can save someone’s life.”

In 2006 when Advocaid began offering help to women imprisoned for debt defaulting and other offences, there were 50 women in the main prison in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown unable to raise bail or afford legal representation, Lavaly said.

“The only reason these people were in prison is because they were poor and could not afford representation. There was no educated person in prison. All of these women are illiterate. Even now the majority of the women in the criminal justice system are illiterate. You are not there because you are a bad person, but because you cannot get legal representation.”

Poverty is widespread in Sierra Leone, which is recovering from a civil war that devastated its people and institutions. The judiciary is inadequately staffed, and has a big backlog of cases, Advocaid said.

Magistrates are overworked and under-trained, there are constant adjournments, missing case files, lack of transport for prisoners to and from court and a shortage of magistrates has created lengthy delays, Amnesty International said in its 2012 state of the world’s human rights report.

Many women have been arrested, detained or convicted because of debt issues, noted Advocaid. However, other common offences by Sierra Leonean women include murder, causing serious injury to someone – in many cases their husbands – and public disorder.

Poor understanding of the law

Poor understanding of court procedures and language barriers have resulted in many suspects inadvertently admitting guilt and getting convicted. A 19-year-old woman who spoke to IRIN said she was charged with murder after she accidentally stabbed her husband with a sharp object she was carrying when he fell on top of her while playing. She spent 18 months in a remand prison before her trial started, but was later acquitted.

“I am unhappy about the murder charge because I didn’t have any intention of killing my husband,” she said on condition of anonymity. “The police have to help. They didn’t investigate the case properly. One of the policemen told me that I killed my husband on purpose… I would have been put in jail and I would have been so frustrated and perhaps killed myself.”

Another ex-detainee, who requested not to be identified, told IRIN she was condemned to life in prison for murder after being accused of poisoning her co-wife’s son, but said she was falsely accused. With legal representation, her life sentence was reduced to eight years and she was later released on account of time served.

“The biggest challenge confronting the formal justice system is the public perception that it has been compromised by the executive and lacks independence,” said Ibrahim Tommy, director of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, a Sierra Leonean activist group.

In addition, he explained that there are few state counsels, access to justice both physical – there are few courts and magistrates in a given region – and many cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Most of the country’s lawyers, estimated to be around 500, are in private practice or working for corporations and mainly based in Freetown.

The granting of bail, which is at the discretion of magistrates and judges, has been seen as unfair. In addition, some plaintiffs have been known to fail to turn up to court for hearings once the accused has been detained, thus dragging out cases and crowding prisons.

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Sierra Leonean Civil Society Organisations Denounce Executions in The Gambia

August 28th, 2012 — 5:45pm

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations based in Sierra Leone, strongly denounce the execution of 9 inmates on death row in The Gambia last week.

The executions represent a tragic setback to efforts at developing a human rights culture in the region, with the last execution in The Gambia taking place in 1985, according to The Gambian Government. This action also places The Gambia out of step with its fellow African Union states, the majority of which are abolitionist in law or practice.

The recent executions, and threats by President Jammeh of further executions, diminish any hope that the leadership of The Gambian is committed to abolishing the death penalty.

We welcome the Sierra Leonean Government’s official moratorium on executions which was issued last year, and call on the Government to take a stand against the use of the death penalty in the region by urging The Gambian Government to halt any further executions and commute prisoners on death row to terms of imprisonment. Such a call is in line with the African Union, United Nations and European Union’s stance.

The tragic example set by The Gambia last week also highlights the weakness of death penalty moratoriums. We, therefore, strongly urge the Government to consider the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.



Amnesty International Sierra Leone

Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law

Prison Watch Sierra Leone

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Skills Based Training for Ex Prisoners: Jewellery Design

November 24th, 2011 — 11:27am

As part of our reintegration programme, we are offering skills based training to female ex prisoners. Our first course focused on jewellery design.

The women were offered a six week course to introduce them to the basics of jewellery design. The course was lead by Rikke Clevin Jensen, a Danish jewellery designer who trained at the Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London, and Marisa Zawaki.

Since the course began in October 2011, the women have been busily producing necklaces, earrings and bracelets from locally sourced materials. We will be organising a sale in Freetown for the Christmas season. Details to come soon!

The aim of the jewellery design training is to not only help the ex prisoners reintegrate into society, but to provide them with unique skills and a sustainable business opportunity.

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AdvocAid participates in Committee on the Rights of the Child Discussion on Rights of Children of Incarcerated Parents

September 30th, 2011 — 1:56pm

Today the Committee on the Rights of the Child is exploring the rights of ‘children of incarcerated parents’ during its annual Day of Discussion held in Geneva, Switzerland. These children have committed no crime but are deeply affected by their parents’ involvement in the criminal justice system.

Alison Thompson (AdvocAid Director and author of an AdvocAid report on Children Living in Prison with a Parent) is currently in Geneva to contribute to these discussions.

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August 28th, 2011 — 1:54pm

Recently MW was discharged from the High Court presided over by Justice Browne-Marke after the Prosecution was left with no option but to enter no evidence against her in her trial for manslaughter.

 MW stood accused of the unlawful killing of her partner AK after they had a fight in which he ended up being stabbed and died of his injuries. At the trial the Prosecution could not produce any witnesses except for the investigating police officer. It appears AK’s family were unwilling to proceed with the matter as they felt the whole incident was an accident. The Law Officer’s Department did the noble thing and offered no evidence against her.

MW’s case highlights the growing trend of women who, after years of physical, mental and emotional abuse, eventually fight back against their abuser with tragic results.

MW dropped out of secondary school when she became pregnant with AK’s baby in 2008. After MW gave birth, AK started a relationship with another woman and neglected the vulnerable, young mother. MW’s concerns about AK’s behaviour were met with violence. One night in October 2009, MW had gone to meet AK at his girlfriend’s house and ask why he had left their 1 year 3 month old child unattended at home whilst he had encouraged her to attend a party elsewhere. He and the girlfriend allegedly beat her for coming over and when they were parted by a neighbour, AK followed MW to their house. He beat her all the way to the house which was situated in a prominent residential area of Freetown; most surprising of all, no one intervened to help her. At the home, AK proceeded to throw MW’s things out of their room; words were exchanged and shortly after the fight commenced that led to the fatal wounding when MW tried to protect herself in self-defence.

From the police station to the High Court, AdvocAid (a civil society organisation which works with women in conflict with the law) was able to provide legal advice and assistance to MW. In the Magistrates Court she was represented by the Bar Association Legal Aid scheme but in the High Court by AdvocAid’s Lawyer, Simitie Lavaly. In the High Court MW’s charge was reduced from murder to manslaughter.

MW is just one of many such women assisted by AdvocAid who have killed or seriously wounded their partners by accident after their men have left them for another woman and a fight ensues between them and the partner. Even though the police were sympathetic to MW’s plight, they felt compelled to charge her for murder as that is the policy in such scenarios. But in a surprise show of empathy, the police officer involved was very happy to see the matter discharged in the High Court and congratulated our lawyer and our client on the good result.

This sad story had a happy result for MW and AdvocAid and its partners are currently trying to assist MW to go back to school and to rebuild her fragile life, shattered by a tragic accident. However, in most instances such women would be facing the gallows after a conviction for murder which carries the mandatory death sentence. This case powerfully demonstrates that we cannot simplify women in conflict with the law as “perpetrators” and demonstrates that most often women who are trapped in the criminal justice system have suffered some form of abuse or vulnerability.

AdvocAid advises any woman who is in a relationship where she is being maltreated by her partner to report the matter immediately to the nearest Family Support Unit for police protection and assistance. If she is poor and cannot afford legal advice she can seek assistance from organisations such as L.A.W.Y.E.R.S, Timap for Justice or Access to Justice Makeni.

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AdvocAid’s Legal Officer profiled on UWE Alumni News

August 18th, 2011 — 3:51pm

AdvocAid’s Legal Officer, Simitie Lavaly, was recently profiled by the University of West England Alumni news.

We are proud that Simitie’s work is being recognised by her former university and hope she will inspire current students to use the law to transform lives.

You can read the article below:

Simitie Lavaly

Simitie Lavaly

Simitie Lavaly graduated with Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice in 2004. After spending three years gaining work experience in the UK, she returned to Sierra Leone where her sought-after legal skills are transforming the lives of vulnerable women.

Chasing her dream

After leaving UWE in 2004, Simitie gained a broad perspective of the legal industry working as a Caseworker for The Law Society, investigating complaints made about against solicitors in almost every field of law.

Two years later, Simitie left her job to build on the skills she had gained at UWE. ‘I decided I wanted to return to Sierra Leone and pursue my dream of becoming a qualified lawyer, probably one of my proudest personal achievements to date’.

Climbing the legal ladder

And Simitie is right to be proud. Since qualifying as a lawyer, her legal career has gone from strength to strength. In 2008, she took up a position as a Legal Intern at the Special Court for Sierra Leone – mandated to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996. During this time she provided support for senior trial lawyers in the Charles Taylor Trial.

After her internship, Simitie took the natural next step in her legal career, completing her Pupillage with a top law firm in Sierra Leone. During this time, she provided legal advice, assistance and representation to clients in criminal and civil matters in the Magistrates Court and High Court.

Transforming Lives

Simitie now works as a Legal Officer for AdvocAid – a charitable organisation which strengthens access to justice, education and reintegration for female prisoners in Sierra Leone. Often, those she works to help are unable to afford legal representation and are detained in maximum-security for long periods of time.

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Head Office: 1st Floor, 39 Liverpool Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone | | Tel: +232 (0)33 572 526