Harry Yansaneh, former acting editor of the independent newspaper For di people, and member of the Sierra Leone Chapter of Amnesty International and of the National League for Human Rights, died on July 28th, 2005 as a result of violent beatings he had been subjected to on May 10th, 2005 by a group of allegedly hired men and family members of Mrs. Fatamata Hassan, a Member of Parliament for the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), a newly appointed member of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as owner of the building housing For di people (See background information).
Before his death & after his assault, (he died from complications arising from the assault) Mr. Harry Yansaneh made a formal report to the Central Police Station in Freetown, and about a week after these events the Sierra Leone Association of journalist (SLAJ) made a formal complaint to the Ombudsman of Sierra Leone, Mr. Francis Gabidon, who referred the matter to the Speaker of Parliament for speedy investigation and appropriate actions. However, either the police or authorities failed to take necessary actions, although according to laws of Sierra Leone, the matter should have already been brought to Court.
The inquest, that was instituted by the government after Mr. Yansaneh’s death, at the request of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ), lasted for about two weeks and ended on August 26, 2005. It comprised the coroner, Magistrate Adrian Fischer, and six jurors. Nineteen witnesses were called into testify.
In submitting its final verdict, the jury concluded that Mr. Harry Yansaneh’s death was an involuntary manslaughter and declared that “the death of Harry Yansaneh was unlawful and illegal”.
As a result, on August 26, 2005, the coroner ordered that arrest warrants be issued against Mrs. Fatmata Hassan, Mr. Ahmed Komeh, Mr. Bai Bureh Komeh, Ms. Aminata Komeh, her three children, Mr. Reginald Bull, Mrs. Hassan’s bodyguard and caretaker for the building housing For di people, and Mr. Olu Campbell, the property evaluator, who were also present at the time at the assault.
The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Sierra Leone Police confirmed the arrests on the same day of Mrs. Hassan, Mr. Reginald Bull and Mr. Olu Campbell, and asserted that the police were now collaborating with Interpol for the immediate extradition of Messrs. Ahmed Komeh and Bai Bureh Komeh, and Ms. Aminata Komeh, who are believed to be currently in the United Kingdom.
According to the information received, Mrs. Hassan, Mr. Bull and Mr. Campbell were released on bail on August 30, 2005 at the High Court of Sierra Leone, after they were earlier denied bail at the Lower Court, pending further argument from legal representatives (both on the prosecution and the defence side). They have not been charged to date.
According to the information received, on November 7, 2005, a press conference was organised between members of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and officers of the Law Officers Department of the Ministry of Justice.
During the event, Mr. Kargbo (President of SLAJ) asked for more information about the investigation into the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh, following the inquest that was set up by the government to investigate the cause of his death, as, to date, the suspects have still not been charged to court.
In his response, the Attorney General disclosed and read a letter written by the Chief Justice, Head of the Judiciary, in which he stated that the coroner in charge of the inquest, Magistrate Adrian Fischer, had not submitted his report to the Office of Director of Public Prosecution (Ministry of Justice), which should include signed testimonies from witnesses, and which according to law should be used to prosecute the matter in court. Nonetheless, Magistrate Adrian Fischer did submit his verdict on August 26, 2005, and ordered that the suspects be arrested. After reading the letter, the Attorney General said that, as a consequence, he could not charge the suspects to court.
The Observatory is very preoccupied by these facts which raise doubts about the will of Sierra Leonean authorities to sanction the authors of Mr. Yansaneh’s death. As a consequence, the Observatory fears that these developments might lead to a closure of the case in Mr. Yansaneh’s death, and calls upon the authorities of Sierra Leone to conduct a fair, impartial and independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Harry Yansaneh, in order to identify the perpetrators, bring them to justice and pronounce sentences proportional to the gravity of the crime.
Letter by Monique Pongracic-Speier sent on November 21, 2005