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S.Leone riot victims’ families still awaiting justice a year on

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Aminata Kabba says she has not seen justice in the year since learning from a social media video that armed men had shot her son dead, days after widespread riots gripped Sierra Leone.

“I just thought of dying that day with my son,” the 65-year-old cook from the northern city of Makeni told AFP, speaking from a friend’s house where she since moved for her safety.

Her son — Hassan Dumbuya, a vocal supporter of the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party — was killed last August several days after protests across the West African nation spiraled into riots that left dozens dead, including seven police officers.

Amnesty International said it has gathered testimonies alleging excessive use of force during the riots.

An investigation committee appointed by President Julius Bio called the violence “an insurrection against the central government”.

Residents of Makeni say dozens of people in the APC stronghold city were rounded up in the following days.

They say many were arrested, some were shot, and several were killed.

Police said Dumbuya, 36, who was also known as Evangelist Samson, died in crossfire during a raid on a “hideout” for “perpetrators” of the insurrection.

His mother says her son, whom she called Evangelist because he had from a young age always acted like a preacher, was lured into a trap and shot in a swamp as he tried to run away.

“He came from a poor family but he knew how to talk to others — he liked to share whatever little he had with others,” she said.

The bodies of all 27 civilians killed in the riots and ensuing raids were kept at a morgue in the capital Freetown for two months.

Several families interviewed by AFP said authorities had refused to handover the corpses for private burials, instead holding a state funeral in mid-October.

Many of the victims came from the Muslim-majority north of the country and their families had wanted to bury them quickly.

They believed the bodies were not properly stored and an AFP reporter present at the state funeral said the coffins emitted a strong stench.

  • Gunshots –

Alie Koroma, 27, told AFP he and three other men were rounded up at dawn the day after the riots and made to walk towards a nearby field.

“Suddenly, I just heard gunshots,” he said. “I was shot and fell down, helpless.”

Koroma, who claimed he had nothing to do with the riots and had stayed home on August 10, said police shot him in the shoulder.

His cousin — Alie Daniel Tholley, 25, who relatives say had a cognitive disability — was killed, according to half a dozen family members and neighbors interviewed by AFP.

Between sobs, Tholley’s mother, Jattu, said she had been hiding in a nearby house when she heard the gunshot that killed her son.

“My son was very close to me… he always stayed near me,” she said, wiping away tears even as her eyes began to well again.

“He was like my handbag — he even went along with me to the market.”

The government-appointed investigation committee said that “claims of extra-judicial killings” following the protests “could not be ascertained based on evidence collected”.

“However, public allegations of extra-judicial killings especially during curfew hours following the insurrection should be further looked into,” it said in its report.

The families AFP interviewed in Makeni said they had not been contacted by any investigators.

Yusuf Keketoma Sandi, the deputy information minister, told AFP that in April 2023, “the Special Investigation Committee presented its report to the president which included various accounts of victims (and) relatives of victims and responses by the security forces”.

“Government reaffirms its commitment to the recommendations of the report,” he added.

AFP met five other men from the same Makeni community who said they had been arrested on August 11, beaten and brought to a Freetown prison where they were held for over a month, sometimes receiving only one meal a day.

All claimed they had not participated in the riots.

Kabba, Dumbuya’s mother, said she was blocked by armed guards from approaching her son’s casket at the funeral in October.

She said the state had offered her family 20 million leones (about $1,000), which they rejected because his life was “worth more”.

“Give me my child,” Kabba said. “Give me my child’s body.”

by Portia CROWE and Saidu BAH

©️ Agence France-Presse

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