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Sierra Leone in vendetta against press critics

President Koroma

President Koroma

(GIN) —  The detention of two journalists for writing articles critical of Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma has been denounced by the human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The U.K. group urged the government to drop all charges against the writers for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression.

“High-level government officials must be prepared to face public criticism about how they carry out their office,” said Amnesty’s Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus. “To refuse a space for such criticism and public accountability is a violation of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Sierra Leonean and international law.”

The two journalists, Jonathan Leigh, who edits the Independent Observer, and a member of his staff, Bai Bai Sesay, detained on Oct. 18, were charged with 26 counts of seditious libel, denied bail and jailed.

Leigh’s editorial, about supposed friction between Koroma and his vice president, Sam Sumana, said Koroma “is regarded as an elephant, but he behaves like a rat and should be treated like one.”

Pressure against media stepped up this week with the arrest of some 11 media practitioners by the criminal investigations department. Armed police officers began raiding newspaper offices in the name of searching for the office that prints the Independent, observed Abdul Fonti of the New People Newspaper.

Under the Public Order Act of 1965, anyone who prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any “seditious” publication can be found guilty of a criminal offense and serve up to a three-year prison sentence.

But the U.N. Rights Committee asserts “the mere fact forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties… All public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

 

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