Practicing journalists and media houses in Sierra Leone have had to over the years greatly restrain themselves in investigating and reporting on the ills of society. Four journalists have been remanded at the Pademba Road Male Correctional Center on Friday 28th June 2019 by Magistrate Mark Ngegba of Court No.2 in Freetown.
Four journalists who are all editors, Sallieu Tejan Jalloh aka Sall Tee, The Publisher of the Times SL Newspaper, David Johnson, Editor Times SL Newspaper, Mustapha Sesay, Editor Standard Times Newspaper and Abu Bakarr Kargbo aka Father Bakish, Senior Staff Writer, Standard Times Newspaper were before Magistrate Ngegba on charges brought against them by Lawyer Mohamed Pa Momoh Fofanah through a private prosecution.
Over the years, whilst the government has introduced legislations to unshackle journalists, such as the Freedom of Information Act, a thorn in the flesh of the profession is that of the Criminal and Seditious Libel law contained in the 1965 Public Order Act that was passed into law when Sir Albert Margai as Prime Minister wanted to muzzle journalists when he sought to have a One-Party Bill passed into law by a then SLPP-dominated parliament.
In the long struggle to have the legislation expunged, the former President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, veteran BBC journalist Umaru Fofanah during his tenure in office with his executive fought tooth and nail to have the former government of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma expunge this odious piece of legislation that ties the hands of journalists from freely expressing their thoughts and opinions to no avail.
His successor, Kelvin Lewis, too has been fighting valiantly to have the law exorcised from the books and was able to win assurance from now President Bio when he was campaigning in 2018 that if he won the presidential election his government will expunge criminal and seditious libel from the books.
With the government’s Minister of Information and Communication having several times assured the media that the government will make good on its promise but having so far not filed the motion in parliament for ratification, journalists in Sierra Leone continue to be treated as criminals by the courts for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
It is under this draconian law that 4 journalist make an appearance on Friday 28th June, 2019 before the magistrate court sitting in Freetown on a criminal summon of libel against a Lawyer (Pa Momoh Fofanah) filed by lawyers representing him, when at the same time, the Government of Sierra Leone had established an Independent Media Commission to serve as first port of call in all matters having to do with dispute between the media and the public.
Many people see this first test of the liberty of journalists to report on a matter of public interest without fear of recrimination as a dangerous first step towards repression of press freedom and muzzling of journalists.
The press is appealing to the Government of Sierra Leone and the Judiciary to intervene in this matter and order the immediate release of our colleagues. May common sense prevail!