Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 May 2020:
She is out on bail at last. After spending over three weeks in police detention without charge, and only to be taken to court a few days ago to answer to a ten-counts charge – ranging from seditious libel against the president to perverting the course of justice, Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden has this afternoon been released on bail.
She was set free but university student and child rights activist – Hussain Muckson Sesay, who was arrested for allegedly publishing a photo of Dr Blyden being interrogated by CID officers – a charge he continues to deny, will be released tomorrow or Monday.
There was excitement in court yesterday, when it was reported that Lawyer Melron Nicol-Wilson, acting for both Blyden and Sesay had secured bail for the pair.
But this excitement quickly turned into disappointment for supporters, friends and families of Blyden and Sesay, when Magistrate Hannah Bonnie demanded stricter than usual bail terms and conditions, including the demand that each accused must have two sureties who are property owners in the Western Area of Sierra Leone – with each property valued at 500 million Leones (about $50,000); and for each surety to produce their passport, the conveyance document and valuation certificate of their property.
Both were sent back to prison yesterday, after failing to find suitable sureties at short notice.
But this afternoon, their fortunes changed and the prayers of supporters, families and friends were answered. They have both been granted bail. (Photo below: Dr Blyden and lawyer Melron celebrate Blyden’s long walk to freedom).
Speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph, Human Rights campaigner – Mr Messeh Leone said: “Authorities in Sierra Leone must now drop all the charges against Dr Blyden and Muckson. The charges against them stem directly from their work as journalists, activist and peaceful citizens. This activity should not be punishable and is part of their professional capacity.
“The Public Order Act No 46 of 1965 is outdated and not fit for purpose. Dictatorial government officials use the Public Order Act laws mainly against journalists and activists and the prospect of their use instils fear in the minds of people across the country. There is an urgent need to end the tyrannical criminal defamation laws, which unduly restrict freedom of expression. There are calls in Sierra Leone for the repeal of Part V of the 1965 Public Order Act dealing with libel laws. We want real victory for Unity, for Freedom, for Justice.”
Two days ago, Messeh Leone and his Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in partnership with the Pipul Pikin Campaign Network, organised a press briefing on the Sylvia Blyden and Muckson Sesay case, which was aired live on AYV television, Zoom, Facebook and other media platforms, with the editor and publisher of the Sierra Leone Telegraph – Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas demanding an end to the 1965 Public Order Act and calling on the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists to actively consult with local journalists to produce a Media Code of Conduct that will satisfy the requirements of parliamentarians who are looking to repeal the 1965 Act but faced with the delimma of “irresponsible journalists” taking advantage of the repealing of the Act.
More than 30 local and international journalists took part in Wednesday’s press conference.
Speaking on behalf of the Blyden family, Mrs Sylvia Jolliminah Blyden – the mother of Dr. Sylvia Blyden, spoke passionately about the life and career of her daughter and called on the government to respect her human rights.
During the press conference, Messeh Leone confirmed to the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph that, lawyers acting for Muckson Sesay are set to go to ECOWAS Court, demanding compensation of USD 500,000 for human rights violations by the Republic of Sierra Leone, and a call for his immediate release.
“In a letter seen by the Pipul Pikin Network, dated 26th May 2020 and copied to Hussain Muckson Seasy, prominent international human rights lawyer Melron Nicol-Wilson has notified the Attorney –General and Minister of Justice Dr Priscilla Schwartz, that he will be instituting proceedings at the ECOWAS Court, against the Republic of Sierra Leone on the instructions of Child Right Activist, Hussain Muckson Seasy, a student of FBC, presently incarcerated at the Correctional Centre in Freetown.
“The reliefs being sought included a (1) declaration that his arrest by the Sierra Leone Police is a violation of section 17 (1) and 20 (1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No 6 of 199, as amended, and article 6 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of 1981; 2) a Declaration that his detention from the 3rd of May 2020 by the Sierra Leone Police and the Correctional Centre is unlawful and violation of his rights as guaranteed by articles 4,5, and 7 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of 1981; 3) an order mandating the government of Sierra Leone and its agent to immediately release him from custody; and 4) payment of the sum of Five Thousands United States Dollars (USD 500,000) to him, being compensation for the violation of his right to human dignity, liberty, fair hearing, trauma, subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment while in detention, and for loss of earning and education”.
The press conference ended with a reminder of a campaign fund raising initiative that has been established in support of the work of Dr Sylvia Blyden, in campaigning for democracy, civil liberty and human rights in Sierra Leone.
Messeh Leone said: “Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden urgently needs your help to campaign for her freedom and the freedom of everyone in Sierra Leone. Please donate today. Please also share this appeal widely and encourage others to donate. Your contributions go solely to the campaign. The donations are fully audited by independent auditors, the Blyden Family, and the Campaign Team for #FreeDrBlyden, which is the only official group endorsed by Dr Sylvia Blyden. Monies raised will be used for the campaign that promotes Dr Blyden’s work, not for personal expenses or legal fees.
“We are deeply concerned about the continued incarceration of Dr Sylvia Blyden, since 1st May 2020, in Freetown high-security prison under harsh conditions amid her deteriorating state of health, after she was “kidnapped” and “dragged’’ out of her family home in Freetown by armed security forces. The arbitrary arrest and the subsequent detention of Dr Blyden were connected to trumped-up charges brought against her by the government after she called on Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio to respect democracy, human rights, and to take more appropriate measures to tackle COVID 19, in the public interest.
“The establishment of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), following 11 years of bitter civil conflict, was appropriate, necessary and highly significant for the healing of a traumatised nation. The report of the TRC highlighted the government corruption during the years leading up to the conflict, the desecration of the constitution, the perpetuation of injustice and the pillaging of the country’s wealth.
“The Commission called upon the Ministry of Justice, including judges and lawyers, to defend the rule of law (paragraph 176 of the TRC). The Commission’s findings challenge us, as a nation, to learn from the past and to reinforce the belief that the past cannot, and must not, be forgotten. This is the time for the country to come together to promote a prosperous and united Sierra Leone guided by unity, freedom and justice. Everyone is needed to come on board and have a voice in the governance of the country, regardless of tribal and political affiliations.
“We note that Dr Blyden’s case has suffered from her falling-out with several people connected to the Government who view her as a threat for her efforts in speaking out against human rights abuses. At this point, personal feelings about Dr Blyden’s case must be put to one side. The far-reaching implications of this case have hugely significant implications for the future of the journalistic trade and for activism in the country. The actions taken by the Police and security forces may relate specifically to one woman’s situation but, should they succeed, they would set a terrible precedent.
“Please donate online via PayPal:
“Africel Money phone (SL): 088-862-018; and Orange Money phone (SL): 076-198-726”
Tonight, Dr Blyden is free from detention where, according to family sources they were both refused proper medical care and subjected to serious mental abuse and deprivations.
Muckson’s release was delayed to tomorrow or Monday, due to administrative lapses.
“Lawyer Melron Nicol-Wilson Esq has just confirmed that , in less than 24 hours, Dr Sylvia Blyden and child right activist, Hussain Muckson Sesay have complied with all requirements for bail and approved by the Master and Registrar of the court. Dr Blyden is now on her way home safe and sound. Unfortunately, Muckson will only be out tomorrow or next week as the male prison had closed for the day before the process was completed,” Pipul Pikin Network commented.
Their trial continues.
See video of Dr Blyden and lawyer Melron after her release today: