Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 June 2020:
Sierra Leone’s justice system is fast becoming a circus where those in power show off their ability and capacity to wield and abuse their office with impunity, simply to settle old political scores.
This is nothing new. Previous governments did the same to some of those now leading the current government.
But what is truly shameful is the lack of professionalism in the manner with which some of the country’s politically sensitive cases are being micromanaged and processed by state officials.
This does not auger well for Sierra Leone’s political stability and sustainability of its hard-won peace, after a ten year bloody civil war.
The abuse of court procedures and jurisprudence, simply to punish political opponents is a classical African political weapon that has no place in a country where more than 50,000 people died in a civil conflict.
Today is another sad chapter in what is fast becoming a legal farce in the Sylvia Blyden seditious libel trial, after she turned up in court from Pademba Road prison where she has been detained since the 1st of May 2020, accused on ten counts of alleged breach of the 1965 Public Order Act.
Dr Blyden was today expected to be granted bail once again after her previous bail was revoked on a flimsy excuse by the State’s law officers, as her health continues to suffer behind bars. When she appeared in court this afternoon to continue her cross examination of State witnesses, there was no magistrate in sight.
Dr Blyden was sent back to the notorious and covid-19 infested prison, after she was told the magistrate was unwell – an old trick in the rule book of Sierra Leone’s legal system that is used time and again, especially on a Friday, simply to deny an expected bail.
As a female politician and journalist, Dr Blyden has made no secret about her political ambition to contest future presidential election, and in the meantime to continue to hold the government accountable for their lapses in governance, human rights abuses and violation of the country’s constitution. But this is no excuse for State retributive justice. It is shabby and regressive.
There are many supporters of the ruling SLPP party who will be looking at the government today and hanging their heads in shame and disbelief, as a justice system once referred to by president Bio as unfit for purpose and self-serving, is now being used for settling old political scores. This cannot be right.
Yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said: “Authorities in Sierra Leone should release journalist Sylvia Olayinka Blyden immediately and drop the charges against her.” In their publication they explained that:
“On May 1, police arrested Blyden, publisher of the Awareness Times newspaper, at her home in Freetown for alleged “cyber-related” offenses, according to Messeh Leone, a legal activist familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app and phone, and a June 4 police statement, which CPJ reviewed.
On May 22, authorities charged Blyden with sedition, defamation, and “perversion of justice” over her social media posts, according to Leone and a copy of the charge sheet, reviewed by CPJ.
Authorities granted Blyden bail on May 28 and released her on May 29, but then arrested her again on June 3, when she appeared for a hearing at a Freetown magistrate court, allegedly for violating bail conditions that prohibited her from speaking publicly about her case, according to Leone and a External linkreportExternal link by The Sierra Leone Telegraph, a local news website.
Blyden is charged with violating sections 27, 32, and 33 of Sierra Leone’s Public Order Act; if convicted, she faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of 1,000 Leones ($0.10), according to a copy of the law reviewed by CPJ.
She is being held at the Freetown female correctional center, Leone said.
“Authorities in Sierra Leone have once again shown their disregard for the free press by repeatedly arresting newspaper publisher Sylvia Olayinka,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Blyden should never have been arrested in the first place, let alone re-arrested for allegedly speaking about her case. She must be released immediately and see all the charges against her dropped.”
The charges against Blyden stemmed from posts on her FacebookExternal link and TwitterExternal link accounts, where she criticized President Julius Maada Bio’s leadership, alleged that former defense minister Alfred Palo Conteh had been mistreated in detention, and shared Awareness Times’s reportingExternal link on Conteh’s case.
Blyden has more than 80,000 followers on her Facebook account, and about 6,000 on Twitter.
Awareness Times has covered the Conteh allegationsExternal link, the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemicExternal link, Blyden’s arrest and trialExternal link, and other local news topics on its Facebook account and printed paper.
Police officers seized three phones and three computers from Blyden’s home during her arrest, according to Leone and the June 4 statement by police.
Blyden is also a leading member of Sierra Leone’s opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, Leone told CPJ.
A spokesperson for the Sierra Leone police, Brimma Kamara, told CPJ via messaging app that the police had not initiated Blyden’s arrest on June 3, and said it was “probably” because Blyden breached her bail conditions. Kamara also confirmed that her phones and computers were still with police and would be used as exhibits in the trial against her.
Blyden was granted bail on May 28 with a bond of 500 million Leones ($51,340) and two land owning sureties worth one billion Leones ($102,680) each, according to Leone and an individual familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
On May 3, police also arrested Hussain Muckson Sesay, a local activist, after he allegedly photographed the police facility where Blyden was being held, and shared those images on social media; authorities charged him with perversion of justice on May 22, at the same hearing as Blyden, according to Leone and Blyden’s charge sheet.
Sesay separately met the same bail conditions as Blyden and was released on June 2, Leone said.” (End of CPJ Report).
Dr Sylvia Blyden is spending another weekend in solitary confinement at the Pademba Road women’s Correctional Centre, in appalling conditions as fears grow for her health. Her case was today adjourned and will next appear on Wednesday, 24th June 2020. Will she ever get justice?