The court in Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, has announced that former President Ernest Bai Koroma is facing four charges including treason, in connection with his alleged involvement in a unsuccessful military endeavor to overthrow the government of the West African country in November.
The court’s decision on Wednesday could escalate tensions in the country coming after the attempted coup and a contentious election in which President Julius Maada Bio was re-elected for a second term in June 2023.
Frictions have been on the rise in the country, which is still recovering from a 1991-2002 civil war that killed more than 50,000 people.
The result of the election was rejected by the main opposition candidate, and questioned by international partners including the United States and the European Union.
Gunmen on November 26 attacked military barracks, a prison and other locations in Sierra Leone, freeing about 2,200 inmates and killing more than 20 people.
The government said later that it was a foiled coup led mostly by Koroma’s bodyguards. They summoned the ex-president for questioning at the start of December.
The former president condemned the attacks in a statement shortly after they happened.
Koroma’s charges, which also include misprision of treason and two counts of harbouring, were read out while he stood in the dock and some of his supporters cried in the courtroom.
“A dangerous precedent has been set … We are dragging a former head of state – democratically elected – on trumped up charges under a political vendetta,” Koroma’s lawyer, Joseph Kamara, told Media.
A high court later on Wednesday granted bail to the former president, who is currently restricted at his home in the capital. The case was adjourned until January 17.
According to Sierra Leone’s penal code, a person found guilty of treason could face imprisonment for life.
Earlier on Wednesday, the government said authorities have charged 12 other people, including a member of Koroma’s security detail, with treason in connection with the failed coup.
The accused were arraigned before a magistrate in Freetown on Tuesday, the Ministry of Information and Communication said in a statement, adding that they included ex-police and correctional officers.
One of those charged was Amadu Koita, a former soldier and bodyguard of Koroma. Koita was widely followed on social networks where he criticised Bio’s government.
Neither Koita nor his legal representative have commented on the charges.