A Sierra Leone group, Society for Democratic Initiatives, SDI, has condemned the violation of the fundamental rights of journalists, using the 1965 Public Order Act, demanding that such a law be repealed.
The group was reacting to the arrest of two journalists, Jonathan Leigh and Baibai Sesay, of the privately owned Independent Observer Newspaper who have also been slammed with 26 count charges.
Subsequently, three other newspapers were raided and their editors, proprietors, and printers, invited for questioning, in violation of Section 25(1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.
Section 25(1) stipulates that “except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression and such freedom includes the freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impact ideas and information without interferences”.
The SDI observed that “Sierra Leone has acceded to many international instruments, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, African Charter on Democracy, Elections and all these international instruments promote and protect free expression and journalistic freedom”.
Freedom from interference also covers correspondence, ownership, establishment and the operation of any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinion and academic freedom in the institution of learning.
It said that the country must respect its obligation under international law and must not only release the two journalists, but must go further to ensure that it laws conform to the dictates of these international human rights provisions in international treaties that it has acceded to.
The executive director of the SDI, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, said the arrest of the two journalists will “chill other media practitioners from holding government to account and scrutinizing activities of government officials. It will give a blank cheque to government without any media reporting.”
“Part V of the Criminal and Seditious Libel Laws is sadly still in the law books of Sierra Leone and undermines the true spirit of the constitution and guarantee to free expression. SDI call on the government to expunge this said criminal and seditious libel. It is an impediment to free expression and Sierra Leone democratic process; therefore it should be repealed from our law books,” he stated.
Abdulai said the human rights environment in Sierra Leone is not conducive for free expression as it obstructed by the Public Order Act of 1965 which is a major impediment to democratic free expression.