Our opinions, traditional and religious beliefs only endanger the lives of drug users
We have over the years attributed our opinions; traditional and religious beliefs in our fight against drug abuse in Sierra Leone. All those attribute only created a negative picture of drug abusers, we demonize them to an extent that nobody wants to do anything with, we made them the social outcast in all communities, putting so much flirt on them, it is no surprise therefore to see law enforcement agencies raiding them, for each crime that is committed in any given society across the country. Because we all (police inclusive) have a mindset that drug user are all criminals, responsible for rape, murder, stealing and other vices in the society.
Our suspicion, Police brutality, violence, injuries, death and incarceration
Our prejudice about them has put immense pressure on the Police to go after them, which has resulted into frequent raids which has lead to the death of few, others sustaining serious injuries, leaving few in wheel chairs or on crutches. Many are languishing in cells across the country. Our misgiving about drug users has place an unbearable burden on the justice sector that is already facing serious financial, human resources and infrastructural challenges. Two recent police raid in Sierra Leone with resulted in death of two young people in Sierra Leone, spark serious violence between the young people and police with the destruction of the policy post in the eastern part of our capital city, in Port Loko in the north the military had to come in to put the situation under control. Youth went on the rampage because they lost two colleagues in the Eastern part of Freetown and Port Loko respectively. Both lost their lives by drawing one in river the other in water well (I will not explain the reasons both raids here) but young people prefer jumping into the sea or into hell rather than falling into the hands of police, because of the fear of brutal manner they would be handle, and the long time incarceration, without trial.
This brings to mind the death of one Francis Heffner and his wife. While attending a revival programme, he was dragged out of the Church service because he had dread locks. Since it s a common belief in Sierra Leone that people with dreadlocks are Rastafarians and that all Rastafarians smoke cannabis, and all those who smoke cannabis are criminals, his only crime was having dreadlocks, unfortunate to be in an area raided by the Sierra Leone Police, he was merciless beating and dump in prison at the central police in Freetown at the point of death, he died next day at the hospital gate, were his family was taken him for treatment. (However, the 8 police responsible Francis Heffner death allegedly on 29th May 2015, are on charges of Manslaughter, the matter is still in court) this and many more are vivid examples of how drug users or suspected drug users suffer in the hands of law enforcement officers and we have been turning our eyes to the side completely ignoring their plight.
Discrimination, the poor suffer most
Lumley Street in the central business district of Freetown is notorious for the distribution and sales point of all kinds of drug to end users. It has been raided by police countless times, on each raid a lot people are arrested, at the end of day those with people and connection with people in high places/ affluence are let of the hook, the poor are dump at the Pademba Road Prison for a very long period. During one of the many raids by SLP the son of one of our former President of Sierra Leone, was found in the scene, it was an open secret that the President son was a drug abuser, he was only put in his vehicle and taken to President lodge whiles the rest were taken to prison. All this examples and many more are still happen across the country and it not helping us.
We got it wrong and compounded the issue
The discrimination, has resulted in the stigma and the violation of the human rights of people who use drugs, many of these violation have negative effect on their lives. We have foster prejudicial attitude towards them, putting them in prisons rather providing understanding, assistance and provide them essential health care- HIV prevention and treatment. “Everyone has right to life, liberty and security of people, states the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. People who use drugs frequently have their security of person and bodily integrity violated in Sierra Leone. All because of our wrong opinions, traditional and religious beliefs about them. We have subjected them to all forms of inhumane treatment, thus compounding the situation for them, and making life unbearable. It’s not fair, we are wrong! And enough of it!
Let’s do it right!
‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth Universal Declaration, without distinction of any kind. Enforcement of drug control legislation and prohibition has notably come to disproportionately impact on drug users in Sierra Leone. Since police are permitted to use their discretion in harassing people on the suspicion that they use drugs. The West Africa Drug Policy Network Sierra Leone Chapter, continually call on our government to harmonize our national drug control policy Act of 2008, with the West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) evident based report. Listen to what the WACD says “We abhor the traffickers and their accomplices, who must face the full force of the law. But the law should not be applied disproportionately to the poor, the uneducated and the Vulnerable, while the powerful and well-connected slip through the enforcement net.
By Saa Matthias D BENDU, Director of Communication, West Africa Drug Policy Network Sierra Leone Chapter