Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 17 (of 30)
Political Environment: 21 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 18 (of 30)
Total Score: 56 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but this right is not upheld in practice. The Public Order Act of 1965 criminalizes libel and holds accountable not only journalists, but also vendors, printers, and publishers, rendering any guarantee of press freedom illusory. The law was applied as recently as 2005, when the managing editor and a reporter with the weekly Trumpet were jailed and charged with seditious libel; they were acquitted the following month. No new criminal libel cases were filed in 2006. In fact, during the year President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah pledged to decriminalize libel, though this promise remained unfulfilled at year's end.

In February, the attorney general of Sierra Leone declined to press manslaughter charges against lawmaker Fatmata Hassan Komeh and two others accused of assaulting journalist Harry Yansaneh, acting editor of the independent newspaper For Di People. The suspects had attacked Yansaneh in May 2005; two months later he died of complications from his injuries. Komeh and her accomplices had been arrested in August 2005 but were subsequently released on bail. Explaining his decision not to pursue manslaughter charges, the attorney general said he relied on the report of the inquest into Yansaneh's death where a physician testified that Yansaneh died from chronic kidney failure unrelated to the assault. The attorney general said he was considering lesser charges against the three suspects. In August, the High Court requested the extradition of Komeh's three children, residents of the United Kingdom who were also implicated in the assault, but this was still pending at year's end.

Despite frequent harassment, newspapers openly and routinely criticize the government, its officials, opposition political parties, and former rebel forces. The diverse and lively media, particularly the growing print media (more than 25 newspapers published in 2006, many of varying political persuasions) have been a strong voice against government corruption. Nonetheless, poor journalistic skills, insufficient resources, a high degree of politicization, and a lack of professional ethics all pose enduring problems for the quality of the press. Several government and private radio stations, as well as international stations like United Nations Radio, all provide coverage of domestic news and political commentary. The radio remains the medium of choice for most Sierra Leoneans, who for economic reasons have limited access to television, newspapers, and the internet. Less than 0.5 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2006, though the government did not place any explicit restrictions on internet use.

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