Arrest Ignites Debate on Cyber Law and Free Speech in Sierra Leone

Cyber Law and Free Speech in Sierra Leone.jpg

By Alvin Lansana Kargbo

In a case that has stirred significant debate about free expression in Sierra Leone, young lawyer Joy Precious Bayoh was released on bail last week Wednesday after being detained overnight by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Sierra Leone Police. Her arrest followed a post on social media platform X, where she questioned the legitimacy of President Julius Maada Bio.

Joy Precious Bayoh’s critical post came in response to a message from President Bio about his meeting with the newly elected President and Executive of the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA). Expressing her dissatisfaction, she likened the questionable legitimacy of the SLBA leadership to that of President Bio.

According to her colleagues, armed police and CID officials initially attempted to arrest the female lawyer at her office, but she was not present. She was subsequently detained at the CID after voluntarily appearing with her colleagues and providing a statement. Authorities stated that she is being investigated for “incitement and other cyber-related offenses.”

This incident has reignited concerns about Sierra Leone’s Cyber Security and Crime law, which critics argue can be used to stifle dissent. These concerns were initially raised in a position paper by civil society groups, who warned that the law could be employed to suppress free expression, much like the repealed criminal libel law.

Prominent members of the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) have cited several instances where the cyber law has been used to target individuals, from musicians and journalists to ordinary citizens, for their online activities. They argue that the law’s application mirrors past abuses under the criminal libel law, threatening fundamental freedoms.

Despite the Government’s efforts in media development since 2018, including the Repeal of the Criminal Libel Law and other initiatives, critics say these advances are undermined if free expression is not safeguarded. The MRCG continues to monitor and document Cybersecurity cases, emphasizing the importance of protecting civic space for a thriving democracy.

Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), highlighted the need to ensure Freedom of Expression, which is crucial for both journalism and democracy. He called for the expansion and protection of civic space to foster a safe and free environment for all.

The arrest of Joy Precious Bayoh underscores the ongoing tension between security measures and civil liberties in Sierra Leone, prompting calls for a careful reassessment of the cyber law to prevent its misuse and protect citizens’ rights.




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