The United Nations-backed court set up to try suspects indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone today convicted one of five people facing contempt charges for allegedly attempting to induce witnesses to recant their testimonies, with the four others pleading not guilty.
In the first case, two members of Sierra Leone’s defunct Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) – Hassan Papa Bangura (aka Bomblast) and Samuel Kargbo (aka Sammy Ragga) – appeared in person before the Special Court, located in the capital of Freetown.
Two other defendants – convicted former AFRC leaders, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu (aka Five-Five) – appeared in court via video link from Rwanda, where they are serving lengthy prison sentences for crimes related to the war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s.
All four were charged with two counts of offering a bribe to a witness, and of interfering with a witness, in violation of one of the Court’s rules of procedure and evidence. Mr. Kamara faces a third count alleging that he knowingly disclosed the name of a protected witness.
Mr. Kamara, Mr. Kanu and Mr. Bangura all pleaded not guilty to the charges, and their trial proceedings will be scheduled at a later date.
Mr. Kargbo pleaded guilty to both counts and was convicted. In a written statement to the Court, he offered to testify as a prosecution witness in any future proceedings. Sentencing was put off until after the trial of his co-accused.
In the second proceeding, former member of the rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF) Eric Koi Senessie pleaded not guilty to nine counts of alleging that he attempted to bribe or otherwise interfere with prosecution witnesses who testified in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
Mr. Bangura, Mr. Kargbo and Mr. Senessie were granted bail and released on their own recognizance under conditions which include not contacting, directly or indirectly, either the witnesses or their co-accused, to maintain their current residences, to report once a week as directed, and to appear at hearings when directed by the registrar of the Court.
Since none of the accused is deemed to have sufficient means to hire lawyers, the defence office has assisted them in securing counsel to represent them in the proceedings.
Conviction on contempt of court charges carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison, a fine of up to two million leones (approximately $500), or both.
The Special Court was set up in 2002 to try those most responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in the civil wars that plagued Sierra Leone, starting in 1996.