Another weekend in detention for Dr Blyden after magistrate failed to show up

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Dr Blyden was today expected to be granted bail once again after her previous bail was revoked on a flimsy excuse by the State’s law officers, as her health continues to suffer behind bars.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 linkBlyden’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?

9 Comments

  1. The Holy Bible warned “DO NOT CRITICISE THE KING EVEN IN YOUR BED ROOM”. Our judicial system is for sure not perfect and has never been perfect even before, during independence talks and after, all the way to this present era. Being aware of all our judicial shortcomings in the past and now, my only advice is to hold firmly the Bible warning aforesaid. The current President had lost cases, but abided by the rulings of the court. He didn’t go to social media groups and make seditious and libel statements against the then President or the court. Instead, he accepted the rulings, stayed quiet and went about his normal business without intimidating anyone whatsoever. And today he is blessed with the Presidency just like former President EBK who came to power after 30 years in private and political life.

    God loves everyone. He gave power to ATK to EBK and now to JMB. If Sierra Leoneans want to become President of this country, take the style of ATK, EBK and JMB. These three eminent Presidents of our poor but great country did not fight and kill people, instead they were elected by the electorate of this country. Let’s obey this Government just as we obeyed EBK’s Government. Let me also quote this old mende proverb “No amount of bad looks will remove the hen from brooding over her eggs”. If you want to continue with the bad looks, but please don’t go beyond the bad looks. But if you do, remember what goes around comes around. A hint to a wise is quite sufficient.

  2. Justice delayed is justice denied. When one looks at our judicial process in our country, it has been done in such a way that it left many Sierra Leoneans wondering why our system is not robust enough to deliver for those that find themselves on the wrong side of the law? In any case, we cannot compare our country to any other country around the world. Every country has its own unique way of administering justice. The rule of law is universal . However, within the laws in the statute books in each country, are also a blend of traditional laws in it. In some countries in the Middle East, murder suspects can pay money to the victims family to avoid going to prison. China and the United States believe in their own unique way of administering justice for their people.

    Even North Korea, believe in their justice way of doing things. The rule of law, though universal is interpreted in different countries in different ways. When it comes to political trials in our country, there are very few cases to hold up, and say justice was served blindly with out political interference. This abuse of state power is not unique with this government, but every government, apart from Colonel Andrew Juxton-Smith’s military government in 1967/68. I was in Makeni town hall, when president Joseph Momoh, made a speech. I remember his exact words. In reference to the arrest of the then vice president Minah and others and this was even before their trial got underway. He said “Ladies and gentlemen, some of you might have been aware some people tried to overthrow my government, but thank God they did not succeed.” So when I heard President Bio, making similar statements about hitting hard on terrorists, my mind rushed back to what Momoh said that day.

    I wish our leaders can stop making such statements, because, whatever happens in the subsequent political trials that follow, people rightly will conclude it was politically interfered with. Statements such as that coming from the head of state only help to muddy the waters of our justice system. Starting from the seventies right up to where we are today, we are still like work in progress on how to deliver Justice to our people. There are a lot of families that are suffering in silence, because they are victims of state sanctioned murders. My only wish as Sierra Leoneans, is thsat we have a particular institution that we can look up to and say gosh, at least this arm of government is independent minded, that we can trust them to look after our backs when things go wrong.

  3. I have read your articles as you post, however, I have come to the conclusion that you are not been objective. Sylvia has herself to blame on why her bail was revoked, did you write to educate your readers why she was revoked, I don’t think so, yet you write as if the government is so unfair to Sylvia because she belongs to another party. Where were you when Ali Kabba was arrested for some stupid allegations by Diana. Look, I don’t know these people, never met them. I don’t belong to any political party. But all I can say is that these people are draining in their own swamp.

    They have been in positions to make the system work for all Sierra Leoneans, they have been in a position to reform the justice system, they did not. What you said about judges not showing up in court is true, so are lawyers too. We are all Victims in the justice system in Sierra Leone. So I have no sympathy for Sylvia, she is and has been part of the system for a long time, so you making her look like she is being treated because she is from an opposition party is proposterous.

    • Thanks for your comment Humphrey and welcome to the Sierra Leone Telegraph. Before you start accusing the Sierra Leone Telegraph of bias, I suggest you take your time to search and read our stories over the past ten years. As for the Alie Kabba case, I say no more. Please research our archives. Our job is to hold every government of Sierra Leone accountable, irrespective of party colour. We did it when APC were in power, and now we are doing just that with SLPP in power, until the system and behaviours of those in power are changed. Thank you.

    • Mr. Sonny is clearly a rookie in this platform, hence he will never appreciate the objectivity and reputation of thIs renowned newspaper. In regards to the nonchalant attitude towards opposition figures being terrorized and languishing in inhumane prison cells, let us just pray you or none of your relatives falls victim to the current justice system. One thing for sure, what goes around must come around.

  4. We have to trust our system to go through the process and procedures. Even in the USA , since 2016 , the people are still waiting on the judiciary to decide whether the tax information of President Donald Trump should be released or not. We also have to respect the wish of Dr. Sylvia Blyden.

  5. It is rather unfortunate that whenever there is a semblance of a breach of the law by institutions in Sierra Leone or other African countries, we tend to regard it as a uniquely African thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Laws are breached everywhere in the world. And powerful men or institutions influencing court processes to disadvantage vocal political opponents is as prevalent in Africa as it is in western democracies.

    I have closely followed the Dr. Sylvia Blyden case. But unlike the writer of this article, I do not hold Sierra Leone’s justice system in a contemptuous light. Justice systems everywhere are not perfect. They are run by imperfect actors that function within the confines of sociological laws as they relate to fundamental human behaviors. These laws are universal and cannot be looked at as being unique to one country or environment. Sociological laws are also not scientific. They are influenced by social values, which in turn form an integral part of the culture of a society. It follows that even in advanced democracies like the United States, social values influence decision making processes at the highest levels of power. The president of the United States, for example, was impeached in December 2019 for obstruction of justice. He had attempted to influence judicial and legislative processes to the advantage of himself and members of his political party. It follows that if judicial and legislative processes can be influenced by outside forces in superior democratic formations, they certainly cannot be immune to external coercion in African countries. I am not suggesting that this is what has happened in the Blyden case. All I am arguing is that judicial processes everywhere are not perfect.

    Dr. Blyden is not above the law and certainly not bigger than Sierra Leone. But her rights to free speech and association are sacrosanct in the constitution of Sierra Leone. However, with these rights come responsibilities that must be respected. The charges against the doctor are profoundly serious. This makes the argument that she should be released untenable in a court of law. Blyden should enter a guilty plea and accept a lesser sentence. This will be a win-win for all parties.

    • You are right Mr Coleman. Laws everywhere in the world are breached but who is behind this? Who has the power? The ordinary people? We the majority have to fight this for democracy and an independent judiciary everywhere.

  6. Incredible. What kind of political and justice system is this. Also it was apparently not very usefull, that Sylvia Blyden in her statement turned around 360 degrees like Mr. Stargazer wrote in his comment.

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