By Aminata Phidelia Allie
For the first time since they were arrested in Makeni in August last year, 13 soldiers and one army captain have been formally charged by a Court Martial and the allegations put to them.
About four others were not brought before the court for trial as no charges were proffered against them. It is not clear what has happened to them or whether they are still in prison.
All 14 men pleaded "Not Guilty" yesterday to charges bordering on plotting to mutiny or failing to suppress a mutiny, contrary to the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces No. 34 of 1961 as amended.
12 were slammed six counts each while two received seven counts.
Their charges and pleas followed the appointment of a new President of the Court Martial, Lt Col Bobson Jusu. The defence, who had objected to the earlier one leading to his dismissal, gave their no-objection to the new man.
Led by State Prosecutor, Gerald Soyei, the prosecution said the men committed the offence on diverse dates between August 6 and 10 last year, at Teko Barracks in Makeni.
Applying for bail for the 14, lead defense counsel, Julius Cuffie noted that granting them such would contribute to their defense “as at present we are stranded”. Even though the Court Martial Procedure Rule (CMPR) made no provision for bail, Cuffie explained that the Criminal Procedure Act could be used in cases for which provision was not made in the Court Martial Rule.
He said it was worthy for the court to note that no matter what the accused were in court for, they must be presumed innocent until they were proven guilty, adding that their clients would fulfil whatever bail conditions “as long as they are within our reach”.
The defence attorney also cited Rule 4 of the CMPR, which provided that accused persons shall not be held in detention for 72 hours without trial by a court martial, adding “the accused have already been in custody for 8 months, a gross human rights violation”.
Lawyer Cuffie pleaded with the Judge Advocate to not see the accused persons as a security threat “as prosecution would have the court believe. As serious as the offences are, we must bear in mind that they are mere allegations”.
Prosecuting counsel Soyei objected to the bail application citing flight risk, interference with prosecution witnesses and repeat offending. He said the accused might commit the same or similar offence if they were released on bail.
At this, all three defence lawyers - Thomas Beah, IP Mammie and Julius Cuffie - jumped to their feet in objection saying such a statement from the prosecution was prejudicial to the accused persons’ case.
Judge Advocate Otto During warned the prosecution to refrain from making "prejudicial" statement as that implied the accused had already been convicted.
The prosecutor went on that accused persons posed a serious security threat, adding that society would not be safe with them around. He said in the interest of public safety, bail should be refused.
The Judge Advocate upheld the prosecution’s stance on the bail issue “in the interest of public safety and for the safety of the accused persons themselves”. He ordered their continuous imprisonment.
Before the bail application, both defense and prosecution teams exchanged written opening statements which are expected to form the basis for arguments on the adjourned date - Wednesday 16 April.
A list of documents that would be tendered in court to form part of the prosecution’s case was also presented and this caused long and heated arguments, especially when prosecution attempted to title an untitled document that they claimed they found in the room of 6th accused, Private Tamba Shekue.
(C) Politico 15/04/14