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Sierra Leone’s Protest: US Embassy didn’t mount Drones to expose police 

CLAIM: Over 300 drone cameras have been deployed by the US Embassy to expose police personnel likely to stop demonstrators from hitting the streets.

False! No such drones have been installed, says the US Embassy official.

Full Text

A Facebook user by the name “Abdulai Jalloh” posted in a Facebook page/group named “Friends Who Like Radio Democracy 98.1 FM”, a picture of drones with a claim that the United States Embassy in Sierra Leone together with the Coastal Guard ship has mounted over 300 drone cameras in order to pick up or identify any police officer in the country who might stop any protester from coming out to stage a protest on the scheduled dates: 8, 9 & 10 August 2022.

Screenshot of the claim made on Facebook

The Facebook post comes days after sections of the country’s youth announced a planned demonstration, strike or even to sit-at-home in protest over what they say is the rising cost of living in Sierra Leone. 

While it is true that some aggrieved youths are agitating for a street protest, it could not be said with certainty if the US Embassy had any role to play in the said demonstration. But, with the Facebook post fast becoming a subject of controversy, DUBAWA decided to investigate the claim and to see if indeed the Embassy was playing any role in the protest.

Why is the Claim Important to be Verified?

DUBAWA, the fact checking arm of the Centre for Journalism, Innovation and Development (CJID), sees it necessary to verify this claim because it has the tendency to destroy the relationship between Sierra Leone and the U. S. Embassy. Per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the US Embassy cannot be meddling in the internal politics of any country, and Sierra Leone, is not an exception; so for a post to suggest that the US Embassy was deploying drones during an internal demonstration would be a flagrant violation of the said Convention, if it is found to be true.

Also, DUBAWA considers it significant to verify the claim, owing to the fact that the page has over 27,000 followers/members; that in itself means that the claim is widely seen and read by lots of Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad. 

Verification

In order to verify the claim, DUBAWA first checked the website and social media handles of the US Embassy in Sierra Leone to see if there has been any official response by the Embassy to the claim. 

But there was none!

Without seeing any such statement of denial, DUBAWA reached out to Alhassan Jalloh, who is the Press and Media Coordinator for the United States Embassy in Sierra Leone, via telephone interview to either affirm or deny the claim.

Mr Jalloh dissociated the US Embassy from the drone publication on Facebook, saying “This is fake. It is not on our Facebook page.” He added that the US Embassy cannot be involved in internal political wrangling.

DUBAWA asked Mr Jalloh if the Embassy was going to take any action, but his response was negative. “We can’t control this,” he responded. 

DUBAWA has keenly followed the three-day demonstration announced by some sections of the country’s youth which has since turned violent with loss of lives and properties but has seen no sign of drone activities as the Facebook post had claimed.

Conclusion

Claims about drone activities mounted by the US Embassy’s staff in Freetown, prior to the planned demonstrations (8, 9 & 10 August), are false. Checks by DUBAWA before, during, and even after the demonstrations indicate there were no signs of drone activities in the country. Also, the Press and Media Coordinator for the United States Embassy, Alhassan Jalloh, vehemently denied any such claim, stating that the Embassy would not engage in any such unfortunate activity to censor the activities of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP).

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