Reporters Without Borders today condemned the detention of magazine editor Olu Richie Awoonor Gordon for three days without charge in Freetown, as well as the failure of the UN mission in Sierra Leone to speak out about the government’s repeated press freedom violations.
Police detained Gordon, the editor of Peep! magazine, on 11 February after he wrote an article criticising the government’s failure to dismiss a minister who has been accused of corruption. He was released yesterday.
"President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s government uses the police and judiciary at whim," the press freedom organization said. "Journalists are too often the victim of these abuses in Sierra Leone, where For Di People editor Paul Kamara continues to languish in prison for criticising the president."
Referring to the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), Reporters Without Borders said: "It is high time the local UN mission monitored respect for the media. Its silence on the tyrannical behaviour of the authorities towards the press just aggravates the situation, by fostering impunity."
Police went to Peep!’s office in Freetown on the afternoon of 11 February and told Gordon he was "invited" to come to the police station. After being questioned for several hours and signing a statement, he was placed in custody. He was not released until midday yesterday, after the justice minister decided not to bring any charges.
Reporters Without Borders contacted Chief superintendent Mr. Lapia while Gordon was still being questioned. Lapia insisted that Gordon had just been "invited" to "answer some questions" and that there was no question of his being "arrested." Contacted by Reporters Without Borders just after his interrogation, Gordon said the police were polite and that it was the government that gave the order to bring him to the police station.
"I still don’t know what is in store for me," Gordon told Reporters Without Borders after the interrogation. "The police don’t know too much about what I am doing here. If I have to spend the weekend in prison, so be it. I have already been arrested in the past, but this is the most absurd episode I’ve ever experienced in my career as a journalist."
Peep! is known for being one of Sierra Leone’s most incisive publications as regards corruption. An article in the 11 February issue asked why marine minister Ibrahim Okere Adams was not fired after being charged by a commission set up to investigate corruption, pointing out that two other ministers, Harry Will and Momoh Pujeh, had been fired after the commission accused them.
The article quoted a presidential office press release saying someone holding public office should only stand down after the courts ruled on their guilt, likening the situation to that of former US President Bill Clinton. The article also pointed out that Adams is one of the most powerful allies of Kabbah and Vice-President Solomon Berewa within the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in the north of the country.