From Awareness Times Newspaper in
35 Years after Ibrahim Bash-Taqi: Lessons Learnt?
By Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Jul 19, 2010, 12:36
Sierra Leone’s Honourable Chief Justice has been out of the country for the past two weeks attending sessions on improving Juvenile Justice and also visiting the Hague where Taylor trials are ongoing. In her absence until she returns back in a day or two, she has assigned the sacred task of running the Judiciary to the most senior Judge of the Supreme Court, Hon. Mrs. Shahineh Bash-Taqi.
Hon. Shahineh Bash-Taqi has been acting as Chief Justice now for the last two weeks which makes her the most powerful figure in the Judiciary for the last two weeks and easily the most powerful woman in the country over the last two weeks.
However, it has not always been like this. Thirty Five (35) years ago, she was a young lawyer barely two years out of Bar School but finding herself faced with the unfortunate task of standing in front of Judges of the Appeals and Supreme Court to passionately appeal for the life of her husband to be spared by them over-turning the verdict of Guilty of Treason that he had been convicted of at the High Courts. Her husband, Ibrahim Bash-Taqi, was the former Minister of Information in the Siaka Stevens regime who had fallen out of favour with Stevens and had been roped into an alleged Coup-Plot of which he cried out his innocence. On Page 13 of today’s edition is a powerful piece by Sahid Nasralla. It details the somber reality of how the country stood by 35 years ago as a President became so powerful that he could execute his political rivals on trumped up charges and get away with it. It makes educative reading.
I solicited permission to use the photo of the late Ibrahim Bash-Taqi on my front page today from his wife last weekend. Whilst she granted me permission to use one of her most cherished photographs, she naturally could not speak on record to me about those events considering the sensitive position she is wielding today. However, from Oral History and other sources including my maternal grandfather, I have learnt that Shahineh Taqi with only two years experience at the Bar was forced to defend her husband because all other lawyers of more years of experience, all shied away from incurring the wrath of Siaka Stevens by defending Bash-Taqi. I understand from my sources that they all simply went on holidays leaving the indicted suspect with no option but to rely on his young lawyer wife to defend him. She lost the case at the High Court and made passionate representations to save her husband’s life at the Appeals Court. She attempted to go to Supreme Court to argue and she spent an hour passionately appealing only to be told her case could not even be heard. She turned away from the Courts despondent… Her husband was later executed and buried in an unmarked grave after his corpse was first hung publicly in the streets as a "lesson".
The relatives of the men executed including Sorie Forna, continue to plead the innocence of their lost ones but the Judiciary back then was so NOT independent and so much under the control of the Executive that it was hopeless to come up against the Executive when it had stage-managed how a trial should go. I am sure many have written before and many more will continue to write about the executions but this piece for today is not so much about the events of 35 years ago when I was merely three years old but about whether we have learnt anything as a Nation in order to make sure no President ever becomes so powerful again in our midst that he can get away with interfering within the Judiciary with such fatal consequences!
The Bar Association (SLBA) recently raised an alarm that should frighten all of us when they stated the following paragraphs. They first stated that the SLBA recognises, "that the lack of an independent and efficient judiciary is a recipe for chaos and a defining of a failed state".
Following their definition of a failed state and what could be a recipe for chaos, the erudite lawyers then went on to assert that they wanted to "alert a seemingly unsuspecting and complacent public of the lurking danger" of the fact that "the executive of government continues to interfere with and usurp the functions of the Judiciary".
The Bar Association says "We are aware of orders for unlawful arrests and detention of persons, compulsory eviction and destruction of private property, wrongful demand for release of detainees lawfully arrested, all without due process of law,".
The Lawyers then opined that "Unless the Judiciary is truly independent, it cannot fulfill its role".
The Bar Association then calls on President Koroma’s regime to "recognize and respect the role of the Judiciary and desist from wanton and undue interference with the lawful execution of their [Judiciary’s] functions".
What the lawyers are pointing out so eloquently is that the Judiciary, despite the long 35 years now gone since the execution of Ibrahim Taqi and others and despite the lofty promises made by this President not to ever interfere within the operations of the Judiciary, is still subject to Executive manipulations and interference to such an extent that I submit that we could be laying the foundation for a possible situation where another set of innocent live(s) might be lost because he or she is a political rival to the sitting Head of State.
Today, I am told that Lawyer Charles Margai has been forced to take a sitting Magistrate to the very same Law Courts because some hidden hands are supposedly conspiring to keep Margai’s clients behind Bars at Pademba Road Prisons. On a personal note, I recall having to go to the Law Courts over 12 times continuously with not a single witness or prosecutor showing up in the court last year but yet still the Magistrate refused to discharge the matter because it involved the Head of State who was supposedly "angry" with me and so the Judiciary was used as a political tool to appease the anger of President Koroma. What a shame!
There are so many glaring injustices taking place in this country that the Judiciary has been seemingly unable to effectively correct because they have involved political executive authority. And really, what is appalling to me is that many people clearly see these injustices happening but yet still they refuse to condemn because they do not wish to cross the path of the Executive arm of Government since they perceive the Judiciary as an extension of the Executive rather than an independent body under which decisions of the Executive should be subjected.
This is why Sierra Leone’s Judiciary, inasmuch as their poor conditions of service and their inability to self-audit and self-manage funds generated, makes them susceptible to Executive maneuvering, still ought to take a pause once in a while and ask if indeed the Judiciary has moved much from the days when current Supreme Court Judge Shahineh Bash-Taqi was a fresh two-years experience lawyer nervously watching as the Dons back then allowed the Judiciary to be manipulated so her husband could be slaughtered out of the way by the Executive of Siaka Stevens.
To those of us so-called Civil Society and Human Rights activists who watch day-in and day-out as the Executive manipulates the Judiciary without anyone lifting a finger to name and shame the guilty ones, are we not building up another Siaka Stevens in President Koroma by sycophantically endorsing everything his executive arm does even the outright abuses of their authority?
35 years ago, the APC back then of Siaka Stevens killed Bash-Taqi, Sorie Forna and others using the Judiciary as a tool. 35 years later, the APC of Ernest Bai Koroma is gearing itself up within the halls of the Judiciary in such a manner that it is frightening! An example of serious abuses is in the generous usage of applications for Trials by Judge alone!
What have we as a Nation learnt from the executions of Ibrahim Bash-Taqi and others? What has the Judiciary, especially the Judges of the Supreme Court learnt over the last 35 years? 35 years later, should our Judiciary really be in the State where it currently is?
Should we be frightened when the President makes announcements about Bail Policies that he has no business making? Should we be frightened when a Journalist is sent to court for 12 consecutive sittings with no witness and no prosecutor but yet the Judiciary is too afraid to discharge the matter because it involves the Head of State? Should we be frightened when the Head of State is shown on National Televisions recounting how he summoned the Chief Justice to threaten her to carry out an act deemed illegal by some under our Constitution? Are we safe or are we exactly where we were 35 years ago? Do we have unimpeded justice in the halls of our Judiciary that the Executive cannot touch? More anon!
Â© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.