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Sierra Leone, 31 August 2011:Break-in at the office of the Women's Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights (WOCEGAR)
The office of the Women's Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights(WOCEGAR) was broken into during the night between 28 and 29 August 2011. All their office equipment and documents were stolen or damaged. WOCEGAR is an organisation based in Makeni, in the northern part of Sierra Leone. Due to their work on women's rights, women's empowerment, gender and domestic violence, and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, WOCEGAR and its director Ms Mary Conteh have been the subject of repeated attacks.
During the break-in at the WOCEGAR office in Makeni, in the night between 28 and 29 August, office equipment including computers, printers and the generator were stolen or damaged. Power cables of some of the equipment were cut and some computers were vandalised. Files and documents on the organisation, its activities and the cases it worked on were also taken away or vandalised. A security guard present at the office was severely beaten. A report was filed with the police on 29 August.
The extensive damage intentionally made, especially to files and documents, leads to the belief that the break-in targeted WOCEGAR specifically because of its activities. As a result of the break-in, the organisation is temporarily unable to operate.
In recent years, Mary Conteh and WOCEGAR have reported repeated attacks, harassment, intimidation as well as blackmailing and the use of names. Due to their work on gender, domestic violence and sexuality, they have become the target of sections of the community in Makeni.
On 6 November 2010, a group of unknown men forcibly entered Mary Conteh's home in Makeni. Not finding her at home, the assailants manhandled her brother and reportedly stated they went there to kill her. Following the attack, the police offered protection and a guard was assigned to her. However, protection was withdrawn two days later. In February2011, upon Mary Conteh's return to Makeni following a stay in Freetown, WOCEGAR was served with an eviction notice and had to abandon its office in Mansaray street. They moved into a new office in June2011.
Front Line is deeply concerned about the break-in at WOCEGAR office, which forms part of a pattern of attacks and harassment against WOCEGAR and its director Mary Conteh.
Front Line urges the authorities in Sierra Leone to:
- Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the break-in at the office of WOCEGAR, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
- Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Mary Conteh, in particular in light of previous attempted attacks against her person;
- Take measures to ensure public recognition by all sectors of society of the legitimate role of women human rights defenders and publicly condemn all instances of attacks or harassment against them;
- Guarantee in all circumstances thatall human rights defenders in Sierra Leone are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals.
For actions see http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/act