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Sierra Leone19 September 2005

Traditional chiefs threaten and humiliate radio journalist

Reacting to the intimidation and humiliation of a radio journalist by tribal elders in Kakua, the capital of the southern district of Bo, Reporters Without Borders today urged the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to uphold the rule of law and remind traditional chiefs that the country is meant to be reconstructing along democratic lines.

“Kakua’s traditional chiefs are not supposed to have police or judicial powers,” the press freedom organisation said. “Radio Kiss 104 FM’s ordeal shows political party influence over tribal structures poses a danger to democracy. UNAMSIL’s mandate includes protection of human rights so it should ensure that the rule of law is respected throughout the country and that journalists do not have to submit to local clans.”

In his popular “Mr. Owl” programme on 12 September, Kiss 104 FM production manager and well-known commentator Kelvin Newstead criticised the convention just held by the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in the northern city of Makeni, at which it chose Vice-President Solomon Berewa as its candidate for the 2007 presidential election.

Calling it more like a “coronation” than a convention, Newstead challenged the right of the 390 delegates to decide the future of 5 million Sierra Leoneans and said it should have been the population itself that chose its own candidate.

Enraged Bo district paramount chief Rashid Kamanda Bongay and Kakua tribal elders summoned Newstead and threatened to close down his radio station and banish him from the region. When Newstead failed to take the threat seriously, Chief Bongay took the case to the Daru Road local court, which ordered Newstead and Kiss 104 FM’s director to each pay 25,000 leones (about 10 euros) to the local authorities. The station was closed down the same day. A Kiss 104 FM delegation then went to see Bongay with the aim of dialoguing, but he refused to receive them.

To defuse the tension, the local representative of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Richard Margao, finally accompanied Newstead on a visit to Chief Bongay at which they had to beg for forgiveness and prostrate themselves before him. They also made Bongay a gift of 100,000 leones (40 euros) in order to request his magnanimity.

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