Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned the Sierra Leone high court’s decision on 5 October to sentence Paul Kamara (photo), the founder and editor of the daily For Di People, to a total of four years in prison for "seditiously" libelling President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
"The victim of unceasing harassment by the judicial apparatus, Paul Kamara must be freed immediately", the organisation said. "This heavy sentence at the end of a trial full of legal quibbling looks more like a harsh punishment for a dissident voice than a fair decision aimed at keeping the peace."
Reporters Without Borders said the Kabbah government had ignored calls from Sierra Leone’s journalists to repeal the law which it uses to crack down on its press critics and which enabled the court to impose such a heavy prison sentence on Kamara.
Noting that the tasks assigned to the local UN mission, UNAMSIL, under Security Council resolution 1562 include monitoring and promoting respect for human rights, the organisation called on the mission to encourage the government to "decriminalise press offences, as other countries in Africa have done".
The Freetown high court No. 2, presided over by Justice Bankole Rashid, sentenced Kamara to two 24-month prison terms to run concurrently. The manager of John Love Printers, Brima Sesay, was sentenced to two six-month prison terms to run concurrently, or a fine of 10,000 leones (about 5 euros). The owner of the printers, Lovette Charles, and its administrator, Joseph Charles, were acquitted. Kamara was taken from court to Freetown prison.
The offending article appeared in the 3 October 2003 issue of For di People. Headlined "Speaker of Parliament challenge! Kabbah is a true convict !", it reported that a commission of enquiry had in 1968 found Kabbah - then finance minister - guilty of fraud. It also said it was unconstitutional of the parliamentary speaker to maintain that Kabbah enjoys immunity from prosecution as president.
Kamara has had repeated run-ins with the authorities. He was convicted under the Public Order Act of 1965, the repeal of which has been repeatedly but unsuccessfully requested by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ). It provides for prison sentences for libel and establishes that printers and vendors of can be prosecuted for the "crime" as well as journalists.