Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 November 2014
It has pleased ‘his all-powerful royal highness’ the president of Sierra Leone, to yesterday sign another order from above, instructing the release of the country’s most popular journalist – David Tam Baryoh from prison.
(Photo: Tam Baryoh – second from left, leaving prison yesterday – an unhappy man)
Tam Baryoh had been incarcerated in jail for over a week by the president, for criticising the president’s poor handling of the Ebola crisis, and his intention to illegally amend the country’s Constitution to stay in power beyond the required two terms.
But president Koroma said that the journalist was arrested “for preaching tribalism, hatred and division in the country”.
Lawyers and Human Rights groups describe Tam Baryoh’s arrest and detention as a gross abuse of power by the president, and violation of the rights and freedom of the press. They say the journalist was blackmailed into signing a confession statement which then guaranteed his presidential pardon.
Although Tam Baryoh may be out of prison, he is clearly not a free man.
Many in Sierra Leone had expected the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to advocate for the release of the journalist from prison during his visit this week to Sierra Leone. But those hopes were dashed, when it became apparent that Mr. Blair has no interest in human rights and civil liberty in the country, other than his own personal financial interests.
Tam Bayoh’s release came yesterday, after the persistent campaign, especially by the country’s civil rights group – Rightsway International and the Sierra Leone Telegraph, which attracted the attention of British politicians such as the Bradford MP George Galloway. (Photo – below).
It was George Galloway’s early day motion in the British Houses of parliament, which raised concern about the despotic behaviour of president Koroma, that forced the president to then release Tam Baryoh from prison yesterday.
George Galloway’s political party is known as the ‘Respect Party’, and is very well known for its campaign against human rights abuses all over the world.
But Tam Bayoh’s release does not come without conditions. Whilst he is no longer incarcerated behind bars at the country’s maximum security prison, he is not a free man.
Before his release yesterday, the police upon the instructions of the president, imposed a hefty Le50 Million bail, which many in Sierra Leone, especially those belonging to the Kono tribe, believe to be retributive and maliciously punitive.
In addition to the hefty bail, which was raised by family and close friends of the journalist, he is also required to report to the police criminal investigations department every Monday.
Following the arrest of the journalist, his radio station, offices and home were raided by the police. It is understood that broadcasting equipment and personal belongings of the journalist, were confiscated by the police.
It is not clear whether a travel ban has also been imposed on the journalist as one of the bail conditions. The Sierra Leone Telegraph will be interviewing David Tam Baryoh in the coming weeks.
But yesterday’s early day motion 508 in the British parliament, was quite scathing in its attack on president Koroma’s dictatorial approach. This is what the full text of the motion says:
“Jailing of David Tam Baryoh in Sierra Leone”
“That this House condemns the jailing and beating of the campaigning radio journalist David Tam Bayoh in Sierra Leone, who criticised the Sierra Leonean government’s Ebola response; notes that the country’s state of emergency empowers President Ernest Bai Koroma to arrest any person without a court order and that Bayoh was arrested by an order signed by the President; further notes that Bayoh, who suffers from high blood pressure, is detained without charge in a hugely overcrowded jail; points out that around a third of the amount pledged by the EU to Sierra Leone to combat Ebola will come from the UK’s £205 million aid package; and urges the Government to use its considerable influence with Sierra Leone to free Bayoh so that he and other journalists are free to work and keep track of the hundreds of millions in aid pouring into a country which ranks near the top of global corruption indexes.”
A prominent Sierra Leonean political commentator, said: “I hope Mr. Tony Blair took the opportunity to advice his dear friend not to pursue his third term ambition which supporters of the Government have been promoting through the slogan – AFTER U NAR U. Is this the actual reason behind the current constitutional review? The present Constitution limits the tenure of the President to two consecutive terms of five years each and then it is goodbye, Mr President.
“The praise at the turn of the century by some western leaders, including Tony Blair, for renaissance African leaders – Kagami, Musuveni, Campaore et al – for promoting good governance in their countries was misguided and premature as recent political events in Burkina Faso show.
“During the tenure of Tony Blair, the British taxpayer and their military contributed a lot to end the ten-year civil war in Sierra Leone. Now the effort is to defeat the Ebola virus and not the barbarous rebels of yester-years. It will be a complete waste of resources for all the good work to unravel and Sierra Leone reverts to the status quo of the early nineties.”
Tam Bayoh’s arrest has not only further deepened the tribally polarised political atmosphere in the country, but has brought a new level of distrust between the people of Kono district and the northern based ruling APC party.
With efforts to win the fight against the deadly Ebola virus becoming more elusive by the day, questions continue to be asked about Koroma’s leadership qualities and his ability to galvanise the country towards the common goal of defeating the disease.
What is certain now though, is that president Koroma can no longer be regarded by the international community, as a trusted ally and partner for development and the promotion of democracy and civil liberty in Sierra Leone.
His divisiveness, dictatorship, corrupt and poor leadership, pose a serious threat to the country’s peace, after a ten year brutal civil war that took the lives of over 200,000 people.
History must not be allowed to repeat itself in Sierra Leone.