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!
While it is commendable the president is at least honouring the 1965 Act libel and defamation laws, at the same time passing the Independent Media Commission Act, I am trying to square the two acts together. It looks like the government is giving away with one hand, and taking back with the other. At the end of the day whether this is a new Jerusalem for the media landscape in Sierra Leone, is still debatable. The devil of how far the media can practice their trade will be in the detail. You have to read the small print, to understand President Bio, who so far has displayed his knack of going after people who don’t agree with him or his All CONFUSED DIRECTION GOVERNMENT.
And most importantly, how this new day for journalists will go about doing their work, without looking behind their backs. By the way there are all sorts of laws that protect the ordinary citizens from the powers of the government. An ordinary citizens can’t fight the state. The problem we have in Sierra Leone, is when it comes to the interpretation of the laws. Or how to defend the Sierra Leone police for instance detaining suspects for 21days, contrary to the laws of Sierra Leone, with out informing the individual why they are detained in the fist place. We should celebrate, but not over celebtate, because we might shout out words deem libellous, then we will end up in Pademba road prison. May God bless the Republic of Sierra Leone.