Twenty-seven civilians killed in August riots in Sierra Leone were buried Monday in the capital Freetown following a state-led ceremony, as families disputed police accounts of their deaths.
Coffins were lowered into individual graves at the Bolima Cemetery in the Waterloo district of Freetown, following a ceremony at the Connaught Hospital Mortuary.
"We are sad and devasted for what happened to my brother," said Alusine Koroma, who contests the official account of the death of Hassan Dumbuya, a social media influencer and prominent member of the opposition All People's Congress (APC) party.
On August 10, a protest about the cost of living spiraled into deadly clashes between security forces and young men calling for President Julius Bio to resign.
Violence erupted in several parts of the West African nation, with the authorities imposing an internet blackout in response.
In the days following, police said they conducted raids on "hideouts for perpetrators".
During one of those raids in the city of Makeni, Dumbuya -- alias Evangelist Samson -- was killed in crossfire, a police statement said. His family disputes that, and the APC has called for an independent probe.
"He was shot from the back in Makeni, according to the autopsy report we received from the coroner", Koroma said through tears on Monday.
The family has refused the 20,000 Leones ($1,200) the government offered to each family to help with funeral rites.
Koroma said they had requested and were denied a family burial.
- 'Dignified ceremony' -
Mohamed Rahman Swaray, the Minister of Information and Communications, said the state had "struck a deal" with families in which it would lead the ceremony for national security reasons.
Security is "the only reason" the state was involved, he told AFP, attributing the long delay to the need to reach a consensus with the families.
He also cited the need for relatives to identify bodies and be present for "examinations".
"Some of (the violence) happened in various parts of the country; we had to put out public announcements and family members -- some of them were initially scared", he said. "We had to extend one deadline after another."
Civilians were killed in the cities of Makeni, in the Northern Province, and Kamakwie, in the North West Province, as well as in eastern Freetown.
Swaray said nine bodies had still not been identified.
He said families had initially feared the dead would be buried in mass graves.
But the government said in a statement Sunday that each body would be buried in its own grave "following a dignified ceremony", at the instruction of the president.
"This is a sad day and a loss to our nation," Internal Affairs Minister David Maurice Panda-Noah told mourners following Muslim and Christian prayers at the mortuary.
On August 24, six police officers killed in the riots were buried in a state funeral attended by Bio.
Sierra Leone, a country of about eight million people, has had a reputation for relative stability since the end of its 1991-2002 civil war, which left around 120,000 people dead.
But the economy, heavily dependent on minerals, has struggled to rebound.