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Sierra Leone government moves to abolish death penalty

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Sierra Leone’s government will move to abolish the death penalty in the West African state, deputy justice minister Umaru Napoleon Koroma said on Wednesday.

No execution has taken place in the country since 1998, and death penalties are often commuted.

Sierra Leone, which is still recovering after decades of civil war, has frequently come under fire from rights groups for keeping capital punishment on the books.

“Once the legislation goes to parliament and gets approved, that ends the story of the death penalty,” Koroma told AFP.

He added that the cabinet of President Julius Maada Bio had decided to push to abolish capital punishment in order to “uphold the fundamental human rights of Sierra Leoneans”.

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The date of the cabinet’s decision is unclear.

But the government announced the move on Wednesday during a review of Sierra Leone’s human rights record at the United Nations, Koroma said.

The European Union’s ambassador to Sierra Leone, Tom Vens, congratulated Bio on the move.

“We will continue to partner with you in promoting a progressive human rights agenda,” he tweeted.

– Falling executions –

Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution allows the use of the death penalty for aggravated robbery, murder, treason and mutiny.

However, the last executions in the country were carried out in 1998, when 24 military officers were put to death after a coup attempt the year before.

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The former British colony was ravaged by a 1991-2002 civil war that claimed 120,000 lives.

A truth and reconciliation commission set up in 2005 to investigate the brutal conflict recommended abolishing the death penalty, calling it “an affront to civilised society”.

But the authorities resisted immediately abolishing capital punishment, and courts condemned 84 people to death between 2016 and 2020, according to the UN.

Koroma told AFP that the government would seek to amend the punishments for crimes that currently carry the death penalty, suggesting “life in prison” as an alternative.

If parliament passes the ban, Sierra Leone will become the latest African country to abolish the death penalty since Chad outlawed it in May.

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According to Amnesty International, 108 countries had completely abolished the death penalty by the end of 2020, while 144 had abolished it in law or in practice.

Both executions and death penalties also fell across sub-Saharan Africa last year, the rights group said.

Recorded death sentences fell by six percent, from 325 in 2019 to 305 last year, while executions were down 36 percent, falling from 25 in 2019 to 16 in 2020.

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Health fears as killer DR Congo volcano spouts ash

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Residents are seen standing next to destroyed structures near smouldering ashes early morning in Goma in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo [Moses Sawasawa / AFP]

The DR Congo’s Nyirangongo volcano has released large amounts of ash some two months after its eruption, sparking concerns for local residents’ health, experts said on Sunday.

The volcano in the far east of the vast central African country first erupted on May 22, claiming 32 lives and destroying hundreds of homes.

“The ash is the result of the collapse of part of the Nyirangongo’s central crater,” vulcanologist Muhindo Syavulisembo said in a statement.

Syavulisembo, who heads the Goma Vulcanology Observatory (OVG), however ruled out an imminent new eruption.

“There hasn’t been visible damage, but we fear respiratory and water-borne illnesses,” Samson Buunda, a local civil society representative, told AFP.

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The eruption of Africa’s most active volcano displaced nearly 400,000 people, especially after May 27 when scientists warned of a potentially catastrophic blast underneath nearby Lake Kivu.

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UK, US delegates and others arrive in Nigeria to witness Kanu’s trial

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Kanu and lawyers, 2017.

Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria has seen an influx of delegates representing the UK, US and others to attend the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, a rights activist and leader of Biafran pro-independence group , the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

Kanu, whose trial is scheduled to resume Monday, July 26, 2021, faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes for calling for a referendum on an independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.

He was seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to Nigeria after fleeing to Israel in 2017 when his home was raided by soldiers who killed scores of civilians in an attempt to assassinate him.

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“We see here the presence of some well-known journalists from European countries. Some British and American delegates have also arrived,” said a source at a notable hotel in Abuja.

Ifeanyi Ejiofor, lawyer for the separatist leader, who confirmed the presence of journalists and members of the international community, called for calm between members of the separatist group and the country’s security agents who will be in court for the trial.

“I further wish to urge restraint and civility in all quarters tomorrow. It is your constitutional rights to be in court to witness Court’s proceedings but your engagement, dressing and conducts should be civil,” Ejiofor said in a statement on Sunday.

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“The World is here already and they will be watching. All notable World class media houses are here already.

“I also wish to remind the security agents that the Court’s environment is a public place, accessible to everybody, and not a battleground, they should be civil in their engagement, as no violence is envisaged and none will happen. What we Demand for is justice and fair hearing,” he said.

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Teen missing since 2020 after soldiers raided synagogue in Nigeria

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The missing teen, Emmanuel John. “It was on Shabbat, Saturday, that the incident happened. My children were there in the synagogue when the soldiers arrived. They killed people and shot others including my two other little children who are 7 and 9 years old,” Mrs. Nkechi John, mother of the missing teenager told Gazette Africa.

The whereabouts of Emmanuel John, a teenager, has remained unknown since October 2020, when Nigerian soldiers raided a synagogue in Obigbo, an Igbo residence in Rivers State, where they killed at least seven worshipers and arrested others.

Emmanuel’s two younger siblings were also shot in the incident that left the synagogue razed by soldiers who accused the worshipers of having ties to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)—a group advocating for an independent state known as Biafra in the eastern part of the country.

Emmanuel’s two siblings shot during the military raid

The incident occurred in October 2020 during which a protest against police brutality turned violent when security officers shot and killed protesters across the country, including Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, where they killed many civilians.

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“It was on Shabbat, Saturday, that the incident happened. My children were there in the synagogue when the soldiers arrived. They killed people and shot others including my two other little children who are 7 and 9 years old,” Mrs. Nkechi John, mother of the missing teenager told Gazette Africa.

“Favour (Emmanuel) didn’t do anything wrong. The soldiers shot him and took him in their van with other worshipers. Since that 2020 we have searched almost everywhere but we haven’t found him.

“He’s only 15, he was keeping Shabbat with others that Saturday, he didn’t do anything wrong,” Ms. John said, weeping.

A Jewish adherent, Chikwube Udo, who survived the military raid, described it as a “bloody Shabbat day”, noting that the synagogue was razed to the ground after the attack.

Synagogue razed in Obigbo, November 2020.

“It was a bloody Shabbat day. People died, others were shot and wounded while those who survived were thrown into the military van and taken away. Few others were found but Aboy (Emmanuel) is still missing,” he said.

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Since 2017, Nigerian government forces have stepped up their attacks on Igbo Jewish adherents whom they consider terrorists for supporting the demand for a referendum on an independent state known as Biafra.

Civilians are seen mistreated by soldiers in the Igbo residence in Obigbo. October 2020

At least 14 synagogues, including those destroyed in November 2020, have been razed by government forces in the east of the country.

The crackdown on Jewish worshipers in Nigeria has further led to the arrest of three Israeli filmmakers, Rudy Rochman, Noam Leibman and E. David Benaym, currently detained without charge.

Israeli filmmakers, Rudy Rochman, Noam Leibman and E. David Benaym

Meanwhile, Nnamdi Kanu, human rights activist and leader of Biafran pro-independence group, who practices Judaism, is currently being held in the Nigeria’s Department of State Services detention center in Abuja after being seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to the country.

Nnamdi Kanu

The separatist leader who had fled to Israel in 2017 when his home was raided by soldiers who killed many civilians in an attempt to assassinate him, faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes, for calling for a referendum on the independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.

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