By Sheriff Mahmud Ismail- August 20, 2015
The public is outraged by the alleged gang rape and murder of a defenceless girl along the Lumley Beach. The parents are psychologically distraught by the indignity inflicted upon their child but are encouraged by the authorities, the different interests groups and the public continued support for justice. The police are making frantic efforts to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to book.
When in the morning of August 13, 2015, the sad news broke out about the gruesome death of a young girl along the Lumley Beach; no one knew her real identity or her parents. But the violent nature of the crime and the recklessness with which it was announced shocked the country. Since then, the authorities in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA), the police and several advocacy groups have demonstrated deep interest in the case and commitment to ensure justice is served. A peaceful march and a vigil in honour of the young girl and in demand for justice are being organised. The procession will start at 5pm local time today August 20, 2015 along the beach ending at the scene of the crime. The police say they would give full support to the rights activists and women’s group not only to be able to raise awareness and to denounce such violence against women but to ensure that the problem of sexual based violence decisively dealt with.
“We have been very reluctant to give clearances for demonstrations of any kind, but we have readily granted permission for this procession because we saw the need for solidarity for justice”, said the Inspector General of Police, Francis Munu. The Inspector General went on to say that, “we need the public and all interest groups to cooperate with us to apprehend these criminals and bring them to book”.
Eventually, a better of picture of the deceased has now emerged. Until 2013, the 17 years old Hannah Bockarie was living with her grandfather, RSM Joseph foray Bockarie at the 7th Battalion Military Barracks, outside Freetown. But when the RSM was transferred to Pujehun, in the Southern Province, the young girl moved over to her aunties at Godreich, in the far West of Freetown, not too far from the 7th Battalion. Hannah’s mother, Mariama Bockarie and step father, Tamba Suluku are staying at Hastings, in the far Eastern part of Freetown. When the 60 year old RSM retired recently, he joined the family at Hastings. The parents have not been in contact with Hannah lately but they thought she was safe.
“We heard about the gang rape and murder of a young girl at the Lumley Beach but we didn’t know it was our own daughter, none of us even thought about it until yesterday, August 18, 2015”, said Tamba . Tamba and Mariama appeared to be psychologically distraught owing to the cruel death and the reckless dissemination of images of the deceased girl. “Now each time I see a couple of people around a mobile phone, I get this odd and disturbing feeling that they may be watching the nude images of our daughter; it’s so painful and provocative”, Tamba lamented.
Between sobs and tears, Mariama narrated how her eldest daughter – Hannah was a favourite child. “Hannah was my first daughter and the first grandchild. I loved my daughter and my father adored his grandchild more than all of us. My daughter was a respectful child and; no matter what people think about her, she did not deserve such brutality and humiliation”, she mumbled.
The grand father is so devastated that the ugly incident is bringing back sad memories. “I served in the army for almost 23 years, I served my country and protected lives and the dignity of my compatriots but now, my favourite grandchild has been defiled and brutally murdered. I am confused, I do not know what to do; I am completely devastated”, the 60 year old ex soldier said almost tearfully”. The RSM recalled that in April 1994, when the rebel war was raging in the Eastern part of the country, he was caught in an ambush between a village called Muala and Kenema; that he took a bullet on his left leg and lost four of his comrades. Showing me the huge scar on his left leg, the RSM said emotionally, “I have put my life in arms way for country, I have saved many women behind rebel lines and I have the battle marks to show for it. I fought for justice and I know for this indignity and violence inflicted upon my granddaughter, I will get justice”. The retired soldier then went on to make a poignant appeal:
“This violence against women must stop! Women are our mothers, we must honor them; we must protect them. Today, it is my grandchild, the other day it’s someone else’s daughter; who knows who the next victim would be; this is why everyone must be involved in making sure that this heinous crime does not go unpunished”.
The head of the Serious Crimes Division in the Criminal Investigations Department, ST Kamara yesterday informed that “we have prioritised this case, we have in fact just concluded a meeting on the status of the investigation and we are determined to get to the bottom of this case. Tomorrow, we would carry out a post-mortem as furthrance of the investigations and we are already in contact with the family. We have assured them of our commitment to bring the perpetrators before the law”. The head of the Serious Crimes Division went on to state that, not too long ago, another young lady was gang raped, murdered and her body abandoned in an unfinished building within the Regent community. “But eventually, we were able to snuff out one of the criminals who has in fact confessed his involvement in the crime. The matter is now being prosecuted in court”, the crime officer said.
According to irinnews, the problem of rape has been a major throwback from the ten year rebel war. The news agency reported in 2010 that rape was rampant during the 1991-2002 civil war and has continued in peacetime. A BBC 2013 report corroborated this assertion. “Rape and sexual violence statistics in Sierra Leone make for grim reading”. Quoting the Rainbow Center, an initiative which supports victims of sexual violence, the BBC report stated that “from January to September 2013, there were over 1,300 rape and sexual violence cases recorded across the country, the majority of which involved children”. To address these challenges, irinnews reported that, “In 2007 the government passed legislation – the Sexual Offences Act- that made violent or sexual abuse of women – including within marriage – a criminal act. However, the news agency said, “law enforcement and social services organizations struggle to implement the law”. PowerWomen232 agrees. PowerWomen232 is women advocacy group leading the efforts for the procession and vigil, their Public Relations Officer, Nicky Spencer Coker, herself a lawyer said in an interview with the local ‘Radio Democracy’ said the Sexual Offences Act is pretty robust both in terms of coverage and penalties. Advocates say there are several reasons hampering the fight against sexual violence but “out of court settlements largely influenced by the fear of stigmatization and financial compensation to poor families by well off perpetrators are among the leading factors.
Dr. Sylvia Blyden, a gender activists and leading newspaper publisher who has been very instrumental in linking the parents of the deceased with the relevant authorities asserted that to overcome this menace, “everyone must come on board- women’s groups, and other rights activists, the public and the government need to collaborate to ensure that laws, not just against sexual offences, are enforced”.
The Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs was reported to have confirmed that the Gender Ministry is monitoring the investigation into the alleged rape and murder and they are so far satisfied with the way the police are handling the matter. The deputy minister was quoted as saying that; “We have been in the investigation process from the start and will follow it till the end to ensure that the perpetrators face justice for their inhuman act”. He has also appealed to the public to come forward with information that would help the investigation.
To seek justice for Hannah Bockarie and the many other victims of sexual violence, join the procession and the vigil starting 5pm today August 20, 2015 at the Lumley Beach in Freetown. Together, we can make Sierra Leone a better and safer country for ourselves and our children.