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Sierra Leone9 June 2005

Charges dropped against The Trumpet journalists

All charges were dropped on 7 June against The Trumpet managing editor Sydney B. Pratt and reporter Dennis Jones, who were arrested on 24 May and accused of "seditious libel." The charges were withdrawn on the decision of justice minister Frederick Carew in return for a front-page retraction, which The Trumpet ran on 31 May.

27.05.2005- Two more journalists detained under 1965 "seditious libel" law

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at the belligerent attitude of the government towards the press after journalists Sydney Pratt and Dennis Jones, were placed in custody on 24 May 2005 under a draconian and archaic "seditious libel" law dating from 1965.

"This event provides the unfortunate occasion to call on President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to annul the controversial 1965 law that has done so much harm to Sierra Leone journalists and their country," said the worldwide press freedom organisation.

"Not only does the president continue to turn a deaf ear to the ever more pressing appeals of journalists and press freedom organisations, but he encourages the use of the law to bully critical journalists. This belligerent attitude is very worrying."

Pratt, editor of the privately-owned weekly The Trumpet and Jones, a journalist on the paper, were arrested on 24 May and accused of "seditious libel" under the Public Order Act of 1965. They were imprisoned at the capital Freetown’s central police station, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Charges against the two journalists are based on an article headlined, "Kabbah Mad over Carew Bribe Scandal", which, quoting an unnamed source, said the president voiced "disgust", "disappointment, and "anger" after receiving the results of an investigation that found Justice Minister, Frederick Carew, had taken a bribe.

"We once again urge the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to come out of its very harmful silence on this issue and to apply pressure so that this episode will finally provide the signal that it is time to build a new relationship between the Sierra Leone government and the media", said the organisation.

The first step to take is to get Sydney Pratt and Dennis Jones out of prison as soon as possible. To achieve this we call on journalists to do their utmost to support their colleagues."

Elsewhere on 10 May, Fatmata Hassan Komeh, a parliamentary deputy and member of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), launched a personal attack against the independent press. She saw to it that Harry Yansaneh, acting editor of For Di People, was beaten up for reporting negative remarks about the government. Her two sons accompanied by three henchmen burst into the newspaper office and beat the journalist, chased staff from their offices, blocked access to the newspaper and damaged equipment.

The same day Komeh forced six independent newspapers - The Independent Observer; For Di People, The African Champion, The Progress, The Pool and The Pioneer - to leave the offices they have rented for ten years. The decision followed an order by parliament to halt the electricity generator for the building until further notice, preventing the newspapers from being printed.

Parliament also ordered the newspapers, established for more than ten years at premises at n°1 Short Street, Freetown, and belonging to the SLPP, to leave the offices from the start of May, moving forward the original deadline of October.

SLPP members of parliament have sought exclusive use of their building for several years and made life difficult for its journalist tenants.

Reporters Without Borders also repeated an appeal for the release of Paul Kamara, editor of the weekly For Di People, imprisoned under the 1965 law since October 2004 and sentenced to four years in prison for "seditious libel" in a trial that pitted him against the head of state.

In this country
22 May - Sierra Leone
Newspaper publisher is victim of judicial extortion
10 February - Sierra Leone
Four women journalists kidnapped, one subjected to public humiliation, by supporters of female genital mutilation
15 May - Sierra Leone
Letter to information minister about closure of opposition radio station
14 February - Sierra Leone
Journalist prosecuted under repressive law that government had pledged to amend
7 September - Sierra Leone
Dangerous climate of hatred on eve of presidential election run-off

in the annual report
Sierra Leone - Annual report 2006

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africa archives

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