Sierra Leone: Update - Alleged Fannyann Eddy Murderer Reportedly Escapes Police Detention in Sierra Leone

Please see IGLHRC's October 4, 2004 Press Release for background information on the murder of Sierra Leonean activist Fannyann Eddy

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has learned that the man being held in the murder of Sierra Leonean lesbian activist, Fannyann Eddy, has reportedly escaped from police detention. Mr. Sankoh, 19, had been in custody and awaiting trial in the High Court of Freetown.
Fannyann Eddy, a highly visible, charismatic and courageous human rights defender, was violently murdered on September 29, 2004 in the offices of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association (SLLGA), the group she founded. In early November, Sankoh, was arrested and charged with Fannyann’s murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

According to press reports relayed by IGLHRC’s court monitor in the case, an undisclosed number of prisoners escaped from court holding cells on Monday July 11. IGLHRC has learned that Mr. Sankoh was reported to be among them and is seeking further confirmation.

“This is an extremely disheartening turn of events and a blow to our efforts to pursue justice and accountability for human rights atrocities committed against gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people,” Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said. “We feel most terribly for Fannyann’s family and friends who have endured so much as a result of her murder.”

Fearful that Fannyann’s murder may have been motivated by anti-LGBT bias, IGLHRC worked with a range of allies in the weeks after her death, including members of SLLGA and Corinne Dufka of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, to stay in touch with police investigators in Freetown and to urge vigilance in solving the case. IGLHRC was extremely grateful for the full cooperation of the police investigators who identified and arrested Mr. Sankoh late last year.

Within the last few months, IGLHRC became increasingly concerned about consistent postponements of the legal proceedings against Mr. Sankoh. Working with local human rights advocates, IGLHRC engaged the services of a leading human rights attorney to monitor the preliminary investigation that was examining prima facie evidence for the matter to be sent up to the High Court for trial. IGLHRC has also been concerned that it appears that Sankoh did not act alone in the killing of Fannyann but no other suspects have been arrested. It was the monitor who alerted IGLHRC of the defendant’s apparent escape a few days ago.

“While we understand that the Sierra Leonean judicial and penal systems are being rebuilt after eight years of civil war,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s Senior Specialist for Africa, “there is no excuse for letting a potentially violent suspect, on trial for a brutal murder, escape from police custody.”

It is still unclear whether Fannyann’s killing was a hate crime. The fact that the murder was committed in the offices of a lesbian and gay organization sent shock waves throughout Africa’s burgeoning LGBT community. IGLHRC had hoped that testimony during the trial would have made clear any biases of the perpetrators.

“Once it is confirmed that Mr. Sankoh has escaped, we will work with police investigators to take all appropriate and legal policing measures to bring him back into custody and to arrest any other suspects,” said Ettelbrick. “We want a free and fair trial, not only for Fannyann but for all LGBT people in Sierra Leone.”