Sierra Leone Journal
Dispatches from Pre-War Freetown and Beyond

 


Treason Trial Verdict Imminent


FREETOWN—In Freetown, the trial of 18 people accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone is grinding to a conclusion. After hearing nearly five months of testimony, the 12 member jury is expected to begin deliberations around the end of October.

The trial is a result of events which occurred last March 23. Based on what the government calls “intelligence information,” police and army troops staged an early morning raid on a house near the center of Freetown. The operation, which saw one member of the raiding party killed, netted 14 arrests and the discovery of a large cache of weapons. Subsequent raids led to more arrests including those of the country’s first vice-president, Francis M. Minah, and an assistant superintendent of police, Gabriel Kai Kai, the plot’s alleged ringleader.

Prosecutors led by Attorney General Abdulai Conteh have presented evidence of the defendants’ plans to assassinate President Joseph Saidu Momoh and prominent members of his government. The prosecution’s case has been built largely upon testimony by various police and army officials involved in the investigation and on what were said to be “voluntary” statements by many of the defendants implicating each other.

A tape recording, purported to be a speech by Kai Kai meant for radio broadcast had the coup succeeded, was played in court. It announced President Momoh’s death in a “people’s coup,” suspension of the constitution, and establishment of a national reformation council to govern the country.

For their part the defendants have all pled not guilty. Many, including Kai Kai and Minah, have testified in their own defense, denying involvement in a coup plot and disputing statements that prosecution witnesses attributed to them.

Also implicated in the alleged plot is wealthy Afro-Lebanese businessman Jamil Said Mohamed, a man with close ties to Sierra Leone’s previous administration of Siaka P. Stevens. Mohamed, currently in exile in London, has denied any involvement.

Regardless of the case’s merits, it is at least symptomatic of serious problems in Sierra Leone. The euphoria that accompanied Momoh’s selection as retiring President Stevens’s hand-picked successor two years ago, quickly dissolved in the face of severe economic decline. Momoh inherited a nearly bankrupt country plagued by shortages of essential commodities, spiraling inflation, and drastic currency devaluation. His efforts at reform have been tempered by the political realities of managing the country with an administration populated by holdovers from the previous regime.

Article previously unpublished. Copyright © 1987 by Gary Stewart



 
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