Officials responsible for undermining democracy in Sierra Leone will be banned from entering the US, the United States government said on Thursday.
US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken made the disclosure in a announcement that said family members of such individual will also be subjected to visa restriction.
The move follows the disputed June 2023 general elections, which Western observers say lacked transparency.
“Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions for those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Sierra Leone, including through the manipulation or rigging of the electoral process; intimidation of voters, election observers, or civil society organizations through threats or acts of physical violence; or the abuse or violation of related human rights in Sierra Leone,” Secretary Blinken said.
The Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) had come under heavy criticism from Western observers who questioned the integrity of the June 24 elections for lacking transparency, even though some local and regional observers, including the African Union and ECOWAS, cleared it as free and fair.
The main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) believes the process was rigged to favour the incumbent, President Julius Maada Bio and his party. Bio was declared winner of the presidential race with 56.17 percent of the vote in the first round, while his Sierra Leone People’s Party won an overwhelming majority in the House of Parliament.
The APC, whose candidate, Dr Samura Kamara got 41.16 percent of votes, has refused to participate in governance, boycotting parliament and other lower-level governance structures. It is demanding a re-run of the election.
The opposition party also refused to seek redress in the courts, citing their lack of independence. It urged on western governments to impose sanctions on the president and his top officials it holds responsible for allegedly colluding with the ECSL to rig the polls.
But details of the individuals targeted by the US visa sanction weren’t immediately made public in the statement issued by the State Department. It only stated that the policy will apply to “specific individuals” and not the Sierra Leonean people.
Family members of the targeted individuals may also be subject to these restrictions, it noted.
“Persons who undermine the democratic process in Sierra Leone—including in the lead-up to, during, and following Sierra Leone’s 2023 elections—may be found ineligible for U.S. visas under this policy,” Blinken said, stressing that the decision reflected the commitment of the United States to support Sierra Leoneans’ aspirations to have free and fair elections that “demonstrate the will of the people and strengthen democracy and the rule of law.”
The US government had ordered the Sierra Leone government to constitute an investigation on the process and ensure it correct legal loopholes it said contributed to the dispute.
The Bio Administration appointed a committee to investigate it, but US officials said the wrong people were entrusted with the task, insisting that an independent panel be entrusted with the task.
President Bio in July angrily rejected Western interference in the country’s electoral process, declaring that no outsider had the right to validate the outcome of its elections.