US restricts visas over Sierra Leone polls concerns
The United States said on Thursday it would restrict visas to Sierra Leoneans accused of undermining democracy in recent elections, which observers said were marred by discrepancies.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would not issue visas to people "believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Sierra Leone," including through vote rigging or intimidation of election observers.
"This decision reflects the commitment of the United States to support Sierra Leoneans' aspirations to have free and fair elections that demonstrate the will of the people and strengthen democracy and the rule of law," Blinken said in a statement.
He said that visa restrictions would also apply to family members. He did not immediately name anyone targeted, and visa decisions are confidential under US law.
International observers had noted "statistical inconsistencies" and condemned a "lack of transparency" in the counting of ballots from the June 24 election, which saw President Julius Maada Bio re-elected.
The US ambassador in Freetown, David Reimer, earlier warned that the United States could review assistance to Sierra Leone through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, in which Washington backs projects in countries that meet democratic standards.
Reimer criticized the election conduct in a local radio interview whose broadcast was disrupted when Sierra Leone's information minister showed up at the station and demanded the right to react.