Namati Sierra Leone program director secures dismissal of criminal charge against disabled youth
Freetown 25 Sept 2012: A Magistrate’s court in Sierra Leone today dismissed a criminal charge of ‘knowingly seeking and obtaining registration more than once’ levelled against a hearing impaired teen by the police. On 27 July 2012, the police arrested Foday Mattia, a hearing impaired teen, for registering twice as a voter for the upcoming presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in November 2012. He was detained by the police beyond the constitutionally approved detention period before he was charged to court on a single count. Unable to afford the services of a lawyer, his colleagues at the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI) approached the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, whose Complaints Registrar referred them to Advocaid, one of Namati Sierra Leone’s local partners that supports justice, education and reintegration for female detainees, and their children, who in turn forwarded the matter to Namati SL.
Sonkita Conteh, Namati’s Sierra Leone Programme Director who represented Foday Mattia during the summary proceedings raised serious doubts from the start about the reliability of the police investigation given the impairment of the accused. Documents intended to be used by the prosecution indicated that no special steps were taken by the police such as using the services of a sign language interpreter to communicate with the disabled youth or carry out the investigations. In dismissing the charge, the magistrate, Komba Kamanda ruled that the failure by the police to indicate how they communicated with the hearing impaired accused in the absence of a sign language interpreter during the investigations creates uncertainties about the content of the statement attributed to the accused and indeed the investigation as a whole. The offence carries a punishment of two years imprisonment or a fine of Le 500,000 (about US$ 115) or both. Disability rights groups have criticised the national election body for not providing special assistance to disabled persons seeking to exercise their right to vote in compliance with the provisions of the Persons with Disability Act 2011, a claim which the election commission denies.
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