To Reflect Historic Repeal of Libel Law… SLAJ Stages Press Freedom Walk

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By Mary Kabay

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), with support from the European Union Delegation in Sierra Leone, organized and staged a Press Freedom Walk on Saturday 7th May 2022 from the SLAJ Head Office on Campbell Street to the iconic Cotton Tree in the central part of Freetown as a symbolic walk is to reflect on the historic repeal of the criminal and seditious libel law and to remind all that the battle for freedom is an everyday fight.

It must be noted that according to the 20th World Press Freedom Index report published by Reporters Without Borders on the 3rd April, 2022 Sierra Leone was ranked 46th out of 180 countries, jumping 29 places up from the 75th position recorded in 2021.

The aforementioned Freedom Walk was also geared towards raising public awareness on the significance of Press Freedom and how stakeholders could help in protecting, promoting and expanding more space for the Press.

After converging at the Cotton Tree a short ceremony was held in order to explain about the importance of the repeal of criminal libel law, Press Freedom and how such have impacted the world and Sierra Leone precisely as well as dilating on some of the challenges faced or experienced that impedes the exercise of free speech and expression.

Salient statements were made by representatives from different originations and institutions.

The President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, welcomed all and expressed profound appreciation for the participation of media practitioners, the European Union delegation and representatives from certain institutions stating that there are justifiable reasons to commemorate the day.

He made mention of the extradition of the criminal libel law of the Public Order Act of 1965  which he said paved the way for enhanced freedom of expression and admonished journalists  to refrain from disinformation, misinformation and hate speech underscoring the need to be ethical and professional.

Ahmed Sahid Nasralla ended by paying tributes to the founding members of SLAJ and thanked all the organizations that have been supporting and promoting the association.

The keynote address was delivered by one of the Directors at the Ministry of Information and Communication Abu Bakarr Tarawally. He intimated that as it is the wish of his Excellency President Julius Maada Bio to promote press freedom they are ready to work alongside that vision. He also called on media practitioners to be steadfast, committed and always have in mind that each right goes with an accompanying responsibility. He commended the Minister of Information, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, for his unflinching commitment in making meaningful achievements geared towards repeal of the seditious libel law and in enhancing Press Freedom.

He said to eradicate media poverty there must be a political will on the part of the Government in order to address media related issues.

The spokesman from the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), who is also a member of SLAJ, Samuel Conteh, made it clear that they are ready to protect journalists either as complainants or culprits. He said the Inspector General gave him a message to tell journalist that the SLP is ready and willing to protect all journalists. He continued by referencing that the clearance that they granted to SLAJ is a testimony of how high they deem media practitioners to maintaining though there are bad apples in any institution, however, the good ones are always outstanding.

On his part,  Head of European Union (EU) Delegation to Sierra Leone,  Ambassador Manuel Muller,  stated that press freedom is a natural right that most not be violated or trampled upon. He said it is their pleasure to give support to SLAJ and thanked all present for participating in the freedom walk.

He continued by saying the press freedom remains one of EU’s main priorities  maintaining that it  should also  be the priority of  everybody further reiterating that without the work of journalist there will be no press freedom and he encouraged journalists to use it saying otherwise it will be meaningless .

“More importantly, the walk is also an opportunity for the State to renew its commitment to always protect, promote and expand the civic space,” the Ambassador maintained and furthered that, “ You have to use the freedom you have and that is how you protect it.”

Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), Dr. Victor Massaquoi, in his statement highlighted the key roles of the Commission which are to regulate, monitor and also to support the media. He assured that in that light they shall continue to work with SLAJ to ensure that the media is safe and guaranteed for all media practitioner as well as to maintain Freedom of the Press and also ensure that the capacities of journalists are developed particularly those residing in the rural areas.

He reiterated that they always use the carrot and stick approach to instill discipline as well as commend journalists for their good works.

Representatives from the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC), Human Right Commission Sierra Leone (HRCSL), Sierra Leone Bar Association(SLBA) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) made salient contributions all pledging support to ensure that press freedom is uphold in the country.


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