16 To Be Hanged in Sierra Leone
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) _ A jammed courtroom listened in hushed silence Tuesday as a High Court judge condemned 16 civilians, including five journalists, to death by hanging for collaborating with Sierra Leone’s ousted military regime.
Justice Edmond Cowan allowed the defendants 21 days to appeal the sentences, which he handed down after lawyers for the condemned made last-ditch appeals for leniency.
Friends and family members of the convicts did not respond as the sentences were being read, but openly wept as the convicts were led from the heavily-guarded High Court in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown.
The 16 were taken by police and West African intervention force soldiers to Freetown’s maximum security prison.
The ruling came just a day after a 12-member jury found the 16 guilty of helping the country’s former military junta take power in an armed coup d’etat last May.
The junta troops led by Lt. Col. Johnny Paul Koroma were unseated in February by Nigerian-led West African troops, paving the way for a return to power by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s elected government.
The convicted journalists are former British Broadcasting Corporation announcer Hilton Fyle, Sierra Leone state radio executive Gipu Felix George, radio journalists Dennis Smith and Olivia Mensah and newspaper editor Ibrahim Ben Kargbo.
Former junta spokesman Alieu Kamara was also among those convicted.
The others include Sierra Leonean businessmen and government bureaucrats. Two people were found not guilty and have been freed from custody.
The convictions are the first under Kabbah’s restored government, which has pursued treason cases against at least 40 other civilians. Another 38 soldiers are being court-martialed.
One of the country’s foremost warlords, former rebel leader Foday Sankoh, also faces charges for crimes against humanity.
Junta and allied rebel forces continue to kill, rape and maim villagers as part of their campaign against the government and have threatened mass killings in retaliation against the jailing of Sankoh and other rebels.