The national chairman of Sierra Leone’s
leading opposition party has said he suspects the government of President Ernest
Bai Koroma was behind his brief detention and interrogation at Dulles
International Airport near Washington, D.C. on June second.
John Benjamin of
the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) said he believes the government
was hoping to stop him from meeting with his supporters in the
But the Sierra Leone foreign ministry has denied Benjamin’s
allegations saying admitting foreigners into the United States was exclusively the
prerogative of U.S. immigration.
Benjamin told VOA U.S.
immigration authorities questioned him on his arrival about human rights abuses
and atrocities in Sierra Leone's last military government.
said they wanted to know what I was coming for. I told them. Then they said
they had information about human rights and atrocities, blah, blah, blah. But I
think it was just a political gimmick,” he said
said he has visited the United States on many occasions as an ordinary Sierra
Leonean and was never interrogated.
he said what has changed and which the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) government
might not be comfortable with is the fact that he is now the leader of the main
see…America is the biggest country in the world, the strongest economy and if
you have support here it makes your work easier back home. And it would not be
in their (Koroma government) interest for us to come and have a strong base
here in America,” Benjamin said.
said U.S. authorities questioned him about human rights abuses during Sierra
Leone’s last military government.
said he served as a civilian cabinet minister but denied he ever violated
anyone’s human rights.
was sought of most of the time working hard to ensure that we have sanity, that
people’s rights were protected. I have nothing to fear. So they did not need to
come after me in America,” He said.
said if the Koroma government had any concerns about past human rights abuses
it should have turned to the Sierra Leone court system for redress.
Leone Foreign Minister Zainab Bangura denied her government had anything to do
with Benjamin’s alleged detention and interrogation by U.S. immigration
think this is unfortunate for somebody as educated as John Benjamin to even
think that the Sierra Leone government has any influence with the United States
government,” she said.
said her government did not even know that Benjamin had left Sierra Leone. She
said she first heard about it after receiving what she described as a serious late
night phone call from President Koroma.
first person I heard this from was the president who called me very late at
night, very serious, and asked me to summon the American Ambassador and find
out why John Benjamin was actually being interrogated,” Bangura said.
said it would not be in the interest of the Koroma government to pick a fight
with the opposition at a time when the government has just signed a communiqué to
develop better working relations with the opposition.