Former Information Minister in the SLPP Government of the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and now top official of the National Grand Coalition ( NGC ), Dr. Julius Spencer , has warned Sierra Leoneans against the consequences of not following the legal doctrine of the Presumption of Innocence.
Dr. Spencer was contributing to the social media debate on the action taken by the Anti-Corruption Commission to publicly humiliate teachers accused of exams fraud.
©Dr. Julius Spencer*
Let me tell you all a true story about the importance of the presumption of innocence.
In 1999 during the rebel invasion of Freetown, I went to the Presidential lodge to report to President Kabbah what I had seen while going around on patrol.
When I got there, I met a very senior govt official fuming that ECOMOG had arrested a group of Sierra Leone soldiers and instead of executing them ECOMOG had loaded them into a truck and taken them to Collegiate school where the Sierra Leone soldiers who had surrendered were camped.
President Kabbah tried to convince the irate govt official that we cannot be executing people without due process. On my way from the Lodge, I passed by Congo Cross and just in front of the police station there was a large crowd including some ECOMOG soldiers. I could see that there was a man among them who was pleading for his life. I stopped my vehicle and approached the crowd to find out what was going on.
The crowd was saying the man is a Sierra Leone soldier and must have been working with the rebel and were urging the ECOMOG soldiers to shoot him. I interrogated him and he admitted he was a soldier but that he was among those that had surrendered, were camped originally at Lungi, moved to the National stadium then to Collegiate school.
He claimed he had left the camp to go find food and was on his way back. I then asked the ECOMOG soldiers to hand him over to me so I could take him to Collegiate school. They agreed to hand him to me after I promised that if we get to Collegiate school and the soldiers there do not identify him as one of them, I will get my bodyguards to shoot him.
Well when we got to Collegiate school I was able to establish that he had come from there and I set him free. Now a few days later I was back at the Lodge and the same senior govt official arrived virtually in tears. Some ECOMOG soldiers had just shot his driver’s wife because a crowd had accused her of being a rebel collaborator. We sympathized with him but Pa Kabbah also pointed out to him that is is because of the danger of innocent people being punished that it’s important to follow due process.
Human rights cannot be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. The presumption of innocence untill proven guilty is one of the most sacrosanct human rights enshrined in our Constitution. Let’s all be careful how we set precedence. It may come back to bite you tomorrow.