Freedom in the World
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Sierra Leone has held three rounds of national elections since the end of its civil war in 2002, including one that resulted in an orderly transfer of power to the opposition in 2007. However, opposition parties have faced police violence and restrictions on assembly. Government corruption is pervasive, and the work of journalists is hampered by the threat of defamation charges. Other long-standing concerns include gender-based violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM).
- Sierra Leone was finally declared free of the Ebola virus in March 2016, after a series of new cases prompted the withdrawal of a similar declaration in November 2015.
- Freedom of movement improved during the year due to the lifting of restrictions meant to curb the spread of Ebola.
- Police fired tear gas and live bullets to break up some protests, including an independence day event organized by the main opposition party in April.
The World Health Organization declared Sierra Leone to be free of the Ebola virus in March 2016, marking the end of a devastating outbreak that took hold in 2014. Already one of the world’s poorest countries before the epidemic, Sierra Leone faced the difficult task of rebuilding its economy amid the social and political challenges associated with rapid population growth and high youth unemployment.
The country continued to struggle with rampant corruption in government. In recent years, the Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has made some progress toward uncovering corruption among high-level officials, but it has a poor prosecutorial record, especially in trials involving President Ernest Bai Koroma’s friends, family, and political allies.
The opposition faced some restrictions on its activities in 2016, raising concerns about the campaign environment ahead of national elections in early 2018. In April, the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) was denied a permit to march in Freetown on independence day, leading to clashes in which the police fired live rounds and tear gas at demonstrators. About 30 people were arrested, and several received jail sentences of six months; one received a nine-month term. Also that month, the SLPP cast doubt on the credibility of newly released provisional results of the 2015 census, which showed major population increases in strongholds of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party, though UN agencies reportedly endorsed the results.
Journalists and social media users risked short-term arrest and other reprisals for critical coverage or commentary. For example, in July, a radio station manager was temporarily forced into hiding after receiving threatening telephone calls over the station’s reporting on floods associated with illegal mining in the Kono district. Separately, at least two people were killed in August when police opened fire on protesters opposed to the relocation of a local youth center. While a police complaints board investigated the incident, no charges were reported.
Weak protection of women’s rights remained a prominent problem during the year. In March, President Koroma rejected a bill passed unanimously by Parliament that would have legalized abortion at up to 12 weeks of pregnancy under any circumstances and up to 24 weeks under special circumstances. In August, the death of a teenage girl during an FGM procedure led to the arrest of four people involved in the incident and renewed calls to ban the practice, which had been temporarily suspended in connection with the Ebola crisis.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Sierra Leone, see Freedom in the World 2016.