Rodney Michael: Sierra Leone telegraph: 21 July 2020:
It was 55 years ago, under the SLPP Government led by Prime Minister Albert Margai, when the Public Order Act of 1965 was introduced in Sierra Leone, with some very strong condemnation of the sections relating to the Criminal Libel Law.
Many were opposed to it, suggesting it was a way of restricting freedom of speech, political opposition, criticisms of the Government and to victimise vocal members of the 4th estate.
The APC, in opposition then under the Siaka Stevens leadership, used it as a campaign strategy and promised to remove the various controversial sections. It helped them win the elections.
But as with Siaka Stevens in 1967, so it has been with all successive opposition parties criticising the existence of the law and promising to repeal them from the Public Order Act through an amendment.
And yet like Siaka Stevens and APC then, all Governments have failed to keep their campaign promises to revoke the specific criminal libel laws from the said Act.
The media, civil societies and all advocates for free speech, are anxiously waiting for a controversial campaign promise becoming a reality – fulfilled and removed from the Public Order Act as to be amended…and the Criminal Libel Law will be no more.
For a Government that is being criticised on the rule of law and freedom of speech, this would be a major boost and would serve as check mate on the sceptics and critics.
More so, it will show that two men – Julius Maada Bio and Mohamed Rado Swarray, have worked hard to keep a campaign pledge that so many before have failed to do, which is to repeal a law that was bad from the onset, condemned year after year, made into an electoral issue in all elections for 55 years, and ignored by every Government since.
While the media and civil societies deserve to celebrate this victory, caution should be taken as the Independent Media Commission Act is also being replaced by a new IMC Act with extremely tough clauses that may be as bad as the Criminal Libel Laws in different ways.
One hopes Sierra Leone Association of Journalists’ President, Sahid Nasralla and His Executive will lobby the Committee charged with polishing the new bill to protect free speech and ensure fairness.
We do not want to be celebrating the repeal of the Criminal Libel Laws only to regret when the New IMC Act is passed into law. As they say ‘warning before wounded’ for any other amendment may take another 55 years.
Finally, finally, finally we have Men of Honour, their word is their bond! Thank You President Julius Maada Bio and Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rado Swarray!
I am a friend, not a foe! I mean well!