The government continued to look askance at the independent press. Corruption was still a taboo subject and the few journalists who dared to write about embezzlement within the state apparatus paid the price.
The press is free as long as it does not poke its nose into anything troublesome. This seemed to sum up the government’s position on free expression. Corruption was by far and away the most sensitive subject. Whenever a journalist tried to denounce embezzlement or fraud involving senior officials, the authorities used and abused everything in their judicial arsenal to fight back. Paul Kamara, the editor of a privately-owned newspaper, was the chief victim of this in 2003.
At the same time, those responsible for the murders of journalists between 1996 and 2000 still enjoyed complete impunity. No real investigation has been carried out and nothing has been done to track down and punish those responsible. The former rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), who killed some 15 journalists, and the soldiers of ECOMOG, the West African peace-keeping force, who executed a reporters on a Freetown street in 1999, have never been troubled by the judicial authorities.
A journalist imprisoned
Paul Kamara, the managing editor of the privately-owned daily For di People, was released on 11 March 2003 after four months in prison. He told journalists at the time that the case for which he had been jailed was still not over and that his fight against corruption would go on. A six-month sentence for libel and calumny passed by the Freetown high court in November 2002 had been reduced by two months. The court had also fined him 4,500 leones (about 2 euros) and banned his newspaper for six months. The conviction stemmed from articles referring to appeal court judge Methland Tholla Thomson as a thief, criminal and constitutional swindler, which had prompted the judge to bring a complaint on 5 April 2002. The authorities had confiscated some of the newspaper’s equipment on 24 October 2002 in order to pay the judge damages.
Kamara was detained again on 3 October 2003 when he was called to the Criminal Investigation Department in Freetown and was questioned about a report headlined "Speaker of Parliament challenged! Kabbah is a true convict!" The report said a commission of enquiry found President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah guilty of fraud in 1968 when he was economy minister. It was unconstitutional of the parliamentary spokesman to claim that Kabbah now had immunity as president, For di People said. When Kamara was charged with libel a week later, such a large sum was set as bail that he had to remain in detention. He was finally released from prison on 11 November when the amount of bail was reduced.
A journalist physically attacked
Umaru Fofanah, a journalist working for the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), was insulted and roughed up by the head of presidential security while covering a meeting between President Kabbah and a UN special representative, Oluyemi Adeniji.
A journalist threatened
Chernoh Ojuku Sesay, a member of the senior staff of the Pool Newspaper, received death threats from members of the National Unity Party (NUP) at the end of February 2003 after the newspaper ran an article accusing the NUP candidate in the 2002 presidential election, John Benjamin, of corruption.