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Sierra Leone21 October 2004

Justice minister threatens to jail editor

Reporters Without Borders protested today at the authoritarian behaviour of Sierra Leone justice minister Fred M. Carew in threatening to jail editor Chernoh Ojukwu Sesay of the thrice-weekly newspaper The Pool.

"We are appalled at this abuse of power," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "It shows the government is determined to crack down on the media, two weeks after the unjust sentencing of For di People editor Paul Kamara to four years in prison for libel.

"Carew’s lecturing of Sesay after summoning him to his office is unacceptable behaviour by a minister in a democratic government, especially in a country as fragile as Sierra Leone," it said.

"We urge President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah to calm his minister down and listen to the numerous calls by journalists and press freedom groups to de-criminalise media offences by repealing the 1965 libel law. Sierra Leone would thus no longer be adding to the list of imprisoned journalists in Africa. It would also put an end to this kind of deplorable incident."

The Pool splashed a story on 1 October headed "Carew plans to kill three orphans" and claiming that when the minister was a simple lawyer he had tried to disinherit three children so one of his clients could profit.

Sesay was summoned by phone the same day to the minister’s office, where he also found director of public prosecutions Bryma Kebbie and another lawyer.

He told Reporters Without Borders that the minister accused him of committing an offence and angrily warned that if journalists continued to be "irresponsible and ignore the 1965 law", he would see it was applied and that Sesay "very soon joined Kamara in prison". "As long as I am Justice minister, I will not hesitate to jail any journalist who falls foul of the law. Do you understand ?", he said.

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