SLAJ Urges Government to Repeal the Criminal Libel Law

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President of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Kelvin Lewis

In his statement marking 2019 World Press Freedom Day, the President of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Kelvin Lewis stated that the global theme for the World Press Freedom Day 2019 as prescribed by UNESCO the foremost UN institution for promoting free expression is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation” is timely.
He added however that in Sierra Leone, the most pressing issue is the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, which is largely being resisted because of criticisms on the quality of journalism in the country.
He added that even in church, pastors preach about the truth and that the Holy Bible says in John chapter 8 verse 32 that: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
The SLAJ President maintained that there are numerous cases negatively affecting journalists. He highlighted cases like the case of David Tam-Baryoh during the Ebola emergency; the case of David Tam Baryoh and Transport Minister Balogun Koroma; Jonathan Leigh and Momoh Konte; Jonathan Leigh and former Information Minister Alpha Khan, and many more as instances that demonstrate the fact that journalists in Sierra Leone have a bad deal with the Government.
On his own part, the Chairman, Independent Media Commission (IMC), George .S. Khoryama said that as far as the IMC is concerned, World Press Freedom Day is a moment of retrospection of how much the media has achieved in its role in terms of providing the public not only information for the sake of information, but equally so an impartial, objective and meaningful information that could trigger sustainable national development, unity and patriotism.
He added that ‘it is a day for us as media practitioners to ask ourselves whether we have fulfilled the sacred obligation of professionalism in terms of balanced and accurate reporting, fairness, excellence and above all satisfying our consciences that indeed we are good journalists.’
He went on to say that: ‘the Criminal Libel Law continues to roar from the pages of our national constitution and from the law courts in this country and could be portrayed to that of the sword of Damocles that is hanging over journalists.’
He further said that the Criminal Libel Law should be removed from the books of law in this country when it no longer exists in law books of the very colonialists who had introduced it here in the first place. He said: ‘This is a historical misfortune and it should be removed.’
He added that a free press and freedom of expression must work not allow people in authority to wrap themselves up in “reason of state” or “national security” in order to muzzle the wholesome functioning of the free press.
He maintained that the right to free press and to freedom of expression is guaranteed under almost all international conventions including international law and human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights UDHR (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, the European Convention on Human Rights, the American Convention of Human Rights of 1969 and the African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights of 1987.

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