Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Sierra Leone
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 2004|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Sierra Leone, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566b80.html [accessed 19 August 2017]|
Sierra Leone has continued effort to rebuild after a brutal 11-year civil war that officially ended in January 2002. At year's end, a large international peacekeeping force that has helped stop the fighting, disarm rebels, and retrain the Sierra Leone army remained in place. In 2003, a U.N.-backed Special Court and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission began dealing with war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the war. Peace remains fragile, but it has contributed to an improvement in press freedom and human rights.
About 26 newspapers operate in the capital, Freetown, including several private dailies, and many publications criticize the government. The opening of a number of private radio stations has ended the state-owned Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service's (SLBS) monopoly of the airwaves. This is particularly significant in a country that has a literacy rate as low as 15 percent. Freetown has about six radio stations, including private and community broadcasters and a U.N. radio network. About 10 of the 14 political districts also have their own radio stations, although many are SLBS affiliates. The Community Radio Network, an independent body created in 2002 with the support of international donors such as the Open Society Institute, aims to support the further development of community radio, notably through help with equipment.
Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, but repressive laws stipulating criminal sanctions for press offenses remain on the books. In particular, journalists want the government to repeal the 1965 Public Order Act, which they say is the biggest threat to press freedom. The act criminalizes libel and holds newspaper vendors, printers, and publishers as liable alongside editors and reporters in a libel suit. For Di People editor Paul Kamara and employees at the printer of the popular daily were prosecuted in 2003 under the act after the paper ran a front-page article criticizing President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
In October, Kamara and three workers at the John Love Printing Press were detained and charged with seditious libel over the article, which alleged that Kabbah was a "true convict" and constitutionally unfit to hold office. The article reported that a 1967 Commission of Inquiry had found Kabbah guilty of fraud. For Di People had also been serializing verbatim the report of the commission, which examined fraud allegations at the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board at a time when Kabbah helped oversee the board as a permanent secretary at the Trade Ministry. Bail was set at Le50 million (US$20,400), which the detainees were initially unable to pay, forcing them to spend several weeks in jail.
At the end of November, while Kamara was appearing in court, armed police raided the offices of For Di People and confiscated the newspaper's equipment to pay off a hefty damages award in a civil libel case brought by a local judge. Kamara served a six-month prison sentence after a criminal conviction in November 2002 for defaming the judge in For Di People. Kamara said the police took computers, printers, desks, telephones, and his car. At year's end, the two cases against For Di People remained unresolved, and the paper had ceased publishing.
According to local journalists, the legal persecution of For Di People has underlined the necessity of eliminating the criminal libel law. However, some say that Kamara has a history of provoking authorities, and the tense relations between For Di People and the government are not typical of the press as a whole.
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has undertaken a media law reform project with support from the Ghana-based Media Foundation for West Africa. One of its key demands is the repeal of the 1965 Public Order Act. SLAJ President Tayyib Bah said his association planned a lobbying campaign and would, if necessary, file suit with the Supreme Court on the grounds that the 1965 Act was unconstitutional.
Local journalists say lack of training and few financial resources are among the biggest obstacles they face. Newspaper journalists also complained about vendors' stranglehold on distribution. Vendors determine on a daily basis which newspapers they will buy and how many copies. They also charge high commissions. Newspapers fear further economic hardship as a result of government efforts to enforce tax collection and introduce a tax on newspaper vendors starting in April 2004.
2003 Documented Cases – Sierra Leone
OCTOBER 3, 2003
Posted: October 8, 2003
Paul Kamara, For Di People
Kamara, founding editor of Sierra Leone's popular For Di People newspaper, was arrested by the police, held for six hours at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), and questioned about an October 3 article, which stated that President Ahmed Tejjan Kabbah was a convict and constitutionally unfit to hold office. The paper had also been serializing verbatim a 1967 Commission of Inquiry report that found Kabbah guilty of perjury.
Kamara said that before being released, police ordered him to return the next day. According to Kamara, he spent several more hours at CID headquarters on October 4. The police summoned him again on October 7 and questioned him for four hours about the newspaper's operations, including where it was printed, and whether he was using his publication to incite violence among Sierra Leoneons.
Kamara said that the police told him to return to CID headquarters on October 8 with columnist Jia Kangbai, who had also commented on Kabbah's fitness to be president. However, Kamara said they did not go because they believe Sierra Leone's independent media commission, not the police, should handle press issues.
Local journalists fear that Kamara, who has already served four months of a six-month prison sentence for defaming a local judge last year, could be charged under Sierra Leone's repressive criminal laws.
OCTOBER 10, 2003
Posted: October 14, 2003
Paul Kamara, For Di People
Kamara, managing editor of the For Di People newspaper, was detained along with Joseph Charles, manager of the John Love Printing Press, which prints the paper. The next day, Lovette Charles, the owner of the printing press, and Brima Sesay, its chief printer, were also detained.
That same day, all four were brought before a magistrate's court and charged with seditious libel under the 1965 Public Order Act. The charges stem from an October 3 article in the paper implying that President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is a convict.
Since October 9, For Di People has been unable to print. Some other newspapers have also been unable to appear because John Love Printing Press managers were detained.
Bail was set at Le50 million ($20,408), which none of the detainees was able to pay. They were sent to prison after the hearing. Local journalists told CPJ they are concerned for the health of Lovette Charles, who is elderly and suffers from a heart condition. The four were ordered to reappear in court on Thursday, October 16.
Kamara has been detained several times since October 3, when For Di People ran a front-page story reporting that a 1967 Commission of Inquiry had found President Kabbah guilty of fraud, according to an editor at the paper. The paper has also been serializing verbatim the report of the commission, known as the Beoku Betts Commission, which examined fraud allegations at the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board at a time when Kabbah helped oversee the board as a Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade.
Kamara has already served four months of a six-month prison sentence after being convicted of criminal libel in November 2002 for defaming a local judge.
On Thursday, October 9, a High Court ordered Kamara to pay Le61 million ($24,898) in damages and costs following a civil suit in the same case. He was ordered to pay within 24 hours but was unable to do so. His family and colleagues fear that his assets could now be seized.
NOVEMBER 24, 2003
Posted: November 24, 2003
For Di People
LEGAL ACTION, CENSORED
Heavily armed police confiscated all equipment belonging to the independent For Di People newspaper, in connection with a hefty damages award in a civil libel case. Editor Paul Kamara, who is also facing seditious libel charges in another case, was appearing in court at the time of the raid. He said police had taken computers, printers, desks, telephones, and even his car.
Kamara served four months of a six-month prison sentence after being convicted of criminal libel in November 2002 for defaming a local judge. On October 9, 2003, a High Court ordered him to pay Le61 million ($24,900) in damages and costs following a civil suit in the same case. He was ordered to pay within 24 hours but was unable to do so. Kamara said he was in detention at the time of the civil case ruling and that he had not been represented in court. He said he had never received any notice related to payment of the damages.
Kamara was detained several times following an October 3, 2003 article in For Di People, which stated that President Ahmed Tejjan Kabbah was a convict and constitutionally unfit to hold office. On October 10, he and three employees at the John Love Printing Press, which prints For Di People, were imprisoned and charged with seditious libel in connection with that article. They were released on Le50 million bail ($20,000) on November 11. The case has been adjourned to December 1.