Alarm bell rings as Dr Blyden continues to be persecuted under criminal libel laws – Op-ed

Helen Koroma: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 November 2020:

May 1st 2020  to November 1st 2020 marked exactly six months since the arrest and detention of Sierra Leone’s female politician and journalist – Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden after making comments on television about the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic which the government said were libellous against the president and inciteful.

After spending several weeks in jail she was eventually charged with seditious criminal libel offences – charges she had always denied.

Six months on, Dr Blyden continues to appear at the High Court in Freetown where she has been subjected to constant adjournment by the Judge “to punish Dr Blyden and break her spirit”, says her supporters.

Over a week ago president Bio signed Criminal Libel Laws Repeal Act which now makes the criminalising of libel a thing of the past – used by successive governments to punish journalists and those with whom the government disagrees.

In his speech repealing the Criminal Libel Laws, president Bio promised to review all current cases of criminal libel to have them quashed. But Dr Blyden is still waiting for justice

It is now six months since Dr Blyden said she was kidnapped from her home by a gang of policemen, then taken to the Police CID where she was detained and forced to sleep on the dirty bare floor of police cells for 22 days without charge; subjected to unbelievable kinds of indignities such as, after first week of detention, several police officers several times went in to padlocked, solitary confinement detention cell they had kept her, to forcibly search her vagina. for evidence

The probing of her private parts by police officers was supposedly for a secret mobile phone at a time she said she was bleeding during her menstrual period. Many have said that it was the worst form of Sexual & Gender Based Violence that cannot be justified by any reasonable, right-thinking Government.

To show the extent of the State-sponsored initiative to demean the lady, it is a fact that it was recently brought out in court that the police searched her vagina three times over a period of 24 hours claiming she had a mobile phone kept in there when she had by then already been in their custody for a week. Of course, no mobile phone was in her possession but that did not end the three times of searching and raw invasion of her privacy as a dignified Woman.

On the 22nd May 2020, the State charged her to court for alleged Seditious Libel and Defamatory Libel against President Julius Maada Bio himself (four counts) and against Government (three counts).  At the magistrate court, the State described her to the Judiciary, in a Sworn Affidavit as a “Threat to National Security” but gave absolutely no evidence to substantiate that claim. Not even a shred of evidence was tendered to justify why they termed Dr. Sylvia Blyden as a “threat to national security”.

Nonetheless, despite no such  evidence to substantiate the claim that Dr. Blyden was a “threat to national security”, she was denied Bail by Judiciary, dragged to the country’s Maximum Security prisons and detained again for seven days marking 29 continuous days of detention; before granted bail and released on May 29th 2020 to go home.

Shockingly however, the release was for only three working days and then she was detained again on alleged claims of knowingly breaching Bail conditions. The Judiciary promptly locked her up again on those un-tested claims for another 22 days before she was granted Bail again on June 24th 2020 by the Judiciary.

In total, since her Kidnap without an Arrest Warrant, Dr. Sylvia Blyden was detained for 51 days for what Citizens are still yet unable to imagine could actually happen in a Democratic State where constitutionally-assured freedoms, justice, human rights and gender-sensitivity in policing are supposed to matter as per local and international Statutes.

During the time Dr. Blyden was in detention, the police broke in to her home behind her back and that time, they had brought out a portrait of the former president that they said was hanging in her house. Police said it was a crime to have it in the house but did not explain how come it was a crime.

The same Police later tendered an Opinion written by United States of America Ambassador Maria Brewer as “evidence”. The State Prosecution asserts those written words of American Ambassador Brewer was “defamatory” and “inciteful” so when Dr. Blyden merely published those words of the American diplomat, the Government alleges that it was a crime for Blyden to publish the “inciting” words of the American Ambassador Maria Brewer.

Six months since Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden OOR was kidnapped on May 1st 2020, it is still not known precisely what motivated the kidnap of the very popular female politician and journalist. Citizens are perplexed to have been told that the State Police found a portrait of the former president hanging in her house and she should therefore explain to the Police why should the former president’s picture be hanging inside her private house.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued over the weekend to mark the 6 months anniversary of the Kidnap of Dr. Sylvia Blyden, one of her numerous Fan Clubs on social media has accused that “The Cowards who sent Police men to kidnap her from her home are now afraid of their Shadows”.

The charges of Seditious Libel and Defamatory Libel are still ongoing in the courts of Sierra Leone but six months after her kidnapping from her house, no one can really put their finger on what motivated the kidnap and egregious abuse of human rights of a woman who remains to have broken so many glass ceilings and who serves as an inspiration to many Sierra Leoneans.

Dr. Sylvia Blyden is the first female publisher of a daily newspaper in the country; she also is a woman who remains to be the youngest ever Sierra Leonean to have been awarded a National Honour of Officer of the Order of the Rokel at the time in the year 2007 and a woman who remains to be the youngest ever person to lead a registered national political party to elections in 2002 at age 30 years. She has borne presidential ambitions for over 25 years now since she made History in June 1994 by becoming the first woman ever in the History of Sierra Leone to contest and win elections to become President of a University Students Union Government.

Clearly, many, many people feel intimidated by her for boldly expressing such a presidential ambition and then  actually working hard towards attaining it – but many have also said that because certain people feel intimidated and very uncomfortable by Dr. Sylvia Blyden’s ambition, was no reason to have subjected her to such egregious abuse of her rights.

Meanwhile, key international stakeholders have said they will continue to monitor and document the issues around Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden OOR of Sierra Leone. It is now six months of such documentation of the abuse of her human rights by “cowards” hiding behind the Police. The documentation of issues around Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, an upstanding and very patriotic female citizen of Sierra Leone, is now in its seventh month. The documentation continue.

5 Comments

  1. If you think human rights violations are a matter of fact in Sierra Leone, then please try life in Guinea as a journalist and come tell us which is better.

    • You’re quite right Peter. Don’t talk about Sierra Leone, what about what’s happening in Guinea? That’s the level of the debate for some people. By the way that’s sarcasm, in case you thought I was agreeing with you.

  2. The moment of truth for both president Bio and the international community is finally here with us. After the highs of last week, as we jointly celebrate the repeal of the criminal libel Act of 1965, we are now finally down to earth. Back to reality to the everyday grind of being a journalist in Bio’s Sierra Leone. There is no hiding away from the facts anymore. Last week, the President signed into law, the repeal and decriminalising of the criminal libel and sedition Act of 1965.

    We were told to celebrate this act by the president, for finally dumping this Act, for what many rightly pointed out, many successive both past and present have used to muzzle the press and free speech in Sierra Leone. Some journalists have actually lost their lives in the name of this 1965 libel and sedition Act.

    If Dr Blyden’s case were anything to go by, censorship and suppression of free speech continues as usual. If we use the yardstick, on this case of Dr BYLDEN VERSUS President Bio, to measure the ultimate litmus test of how serious his government is committed to private individuals or a free press to express themselves without being labelled as objectionable, harmful, inciting violence or making Sierra Leone ungovernable and their inciteful words insensitive to the public discourse, surely last week’s decriminalising of this 1965 libel Act, has rendered Dr. Blyden’s case null and void.

    The courts should follow the letter of the law and throw the case out. Since taking office, the president’s score card is full of broken promises. Little wonder the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans and now the international community have lost faith in this Bio presidency. With all his good intentions, Bio seemed to be a hostage of his own making. If we were to conduct a straw poll, a vast majority of the people of Sierra Leone will say we are heading in the wrong direction. Not that this president cares about what the electorate thinks of him; it only compounds the mistrust that exists between the politicians and those they govern. For the majority of people, politics and politicians has failed them. May God Bless Sierra Leone.

    • Clearly the response from my fellow Sierra Leoneans, gives me enough satisfaction that what used to pass as a school boy bully in the play ground, that some of us Fulanis used to suffer, by always reminding us back in those ugly days we are from Guinea and that we don’t have any stake in the way our country Sierra Leone is run, has has finally been put to rest. God bless to all of you guys. That is the only way each and every one of us can fight tribal division in our country. If you see it say something and tackle it head on so you can educate our fellow Sierra Leoneans that are wedded in tribal differences . Say no to TRIBALISM IN SIERRA LEONE! LONTA

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