Sierra Leone group jogging ban 'a violation of our rights,' says Freetown runner
Amadu Lamrana Bah used to go out to the beach in Freetown, Sierra Leone, every weekend to socialize, play football and go running.
"But I can't do that now with my friends, because we are afraid of now being attacked or arrested by the police," the TV and radio reporter told As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.
Last week, police in Sierra Leone issued a decree banning people from jogging in groups on the streets, accusing joggers of committing crimes and intimidating people.
In a country where the facilities are not that much, our only option is to go out in the streets and exercise.- Amadu Lamrana Bah
"Police headquarters has observed with dismay that people are in the habit of jogging in large numbers along the streets with a hint of menace, raining insults, obstructing traffic, pounding on vehicles, playing loud music, and snatching property from other members of the public," Sierra Leione Police Insp.-Gen. Francis Alieu Munu said in a statement.
"Any group of persons now found jogging in the streets will be dealt with according to law. You have been warned."
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Police?src=hash">#Police</a> in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SierraLeone?src=hash">#SierraLeone</a> ban jogging in the street. From now on you need police authorisation to jog. <a href="https://t.co/cqvidTQW57">pic.twitter.com/cqvidTQW57</a>—@Sabrina_Mahtani
Bah said he doesn't buy the assertion that joggers are violent and dangerous. Instead, he suspects the motivations behind the ban are political.
Young people often sing songs together while they run, he said, and "sometimes they sing about issues that are happening that they are not happy about."
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"The ruling party are feeling threatened, I believe, so they want to use the police to stop these young people from getting out in the streets jogging peacefully," Bah said.
"They understand opposition politicians most times come out and exercise with these guys, and they sing political songs, yes. It's their right, for God's sake."
The Campaign for Human Rights and Development International has spoken out against the ban, calling it a violation of people's right to peaceful assembly.
"We are calling on the Sierra Leone Police ( SLP), to ensure that their decision to ban groups jogging for security reasons is fully in line with national and international law, and respect for the freedom of assembly and association as guaranteed by the constitution of Sierra Leone and other international human rights instruments," the rights group said in a statement.
Police, meanwhile, say the ban is "in line with the constitutional consideration for public order and safety."
Sierra Leone has a long history of cracking down on freedoms of expression, assembly and association, according to Amnesty International.
Jogging is still permitted along beaches, which Bah says many young people live far away from them, and at recreational facilities, which he says are few and far between.
Nevertheless, Bah said he and others are now afraid to run anywhere.
They are worried police will dole out "selective justice" and leave "affluent joggers" alone.
"No one goes after them," he said. "But young people who come together in the communities who want to exercise and jog, they are being intimidated."
In the meantime, Bah is staying off the streets, but continues speak out against what he sees as a corrupt government and police force.
"We hope the police lift the ban. We hope and pray they do that. Because in a country where the facilities are not that much, our only option is to go out n the streets and exercise and we are very peaceful," he said. "You know, this is just a violation of our rights."