Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 July 2020:
When international human rights organisations start calling on a Head of State to respect the civil and human rights of citizens in accordance with the country’s constitution, then questions must be asked about the direction the country is heading.
Early this week, the Canadian-based body – International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), strongly criticised president Bio’s government of Sierra Leone for its poor human rights record, in particular the recent arrest and detention without charge of Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.
“Outdated legislation, illegal detention and charges of sedition and defamation are being used to torment publisher and activist, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden,” the IFEX report said.
The International Freedom of Expression Exchange is a global network of more than 119 independent non-governmental organisations that work at a local, national, regional, or international level to defend and promote freedom of expression as a human right.
IFEX regularly picks up on some of the worst human rights abuses around the World and portrays them in highlighted articles. The most recent highlight is entitled – “Sierra Leonean journalist relentlessly persecuted by government”, and extensively covers the way how female Sierra Leone journalist Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden has been treated by a Sierra Leone regime that is clearly afraid of the stature of the female journalist.
IFEX’s criticism echoes an alarm sounded last week by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) who raised eyebrows at the integrity of President Bio of Sierra Leone for saying one thing and acting differently.
Earlier last month during the detention of Dr. Blyden, the Africa office of the New York based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) published a strongly worded condemnation of the Sierra Leone government.
Meanwhile, the MFWA statement headlined – “Sierra Leonean Government Persecute Journalist, Activist Over Social Media Posts” describes how Dr. Blyden was “kept in illegal detention for 22 days since the police stormed her residence and arrested her, seizing phones and computers in the process”.
“Blyden thus spent a total of 50 days in detention; 29 days and 21 days on either side of her short-lived bail,” MFWA furthered.
The MFWA says the defamation charges brought against Blyden and the subsequent abusive treatment meted out to her over her critical social media posts “hardly inspire confidence that the Sierra Leonean government is genuinely committed to promoting freedom of expression”.
The MFWA has therefore urged the Bio-led government authorities and the Police in Sierra Leone to desist from further harassment of Dr. Blyden.
MFWA laments that “the detention without judicial authorisation” of Dr. Sylvia Blyden was a violation of her rights under Section 17 of Sierra Leone 1991 Constitution.
Since the charges stem directly from critical social media activities, such “should not be punished in a democratic state” is the view of MFWA which goes on to highlight of how, most ironically, “President Julius Maada Bio made a similar observation during his maiden cocktail meeting with a section of Sierra Leone’s media on December 5, 2018.”
The MFWA then directly quotes Bio’s words to be as follows: “Part Five of Sierra Leone’s Public Order Act criminalises any publication that is deemed defamatory or seditious and has been used as a regime to unduly target and imprison media practitioners and silence dissident views,” President Bio said.
Against this backdrop, the MFWA says: “It is therefore strange that the same law is being used to try Blyden”.
“Once a government concedes that a particular law is repressive and begins a process to repeal it, it would be contradictory and a demonstration of bad faith for the same government to charge citizens under the same law it has committed to repealing,” said Vivian Affoah, Programme Manager for Freedom of Expression at the MFWA.
“The MFWA also condemns the seizure and intrusive search of the Blyden’s phones and computers as an abuse of her privacy rights,” the no-nonsense MFWA statement continued as it also lambasted the interference by the authorities of Blyden’s social media accounts.
The CPJ, IFEX, MFWA, FAJ and many other international journalist bodies have investigated the matter of Dr. Sylvia Blyden as a female journalist and are all firmly standing solidly with her in complete solidarity.
Sadly, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) whose role it is to raise international alerts on such overt threats to freedom of speech in Sierra Leone, did not issue a formal statement throughout Blyden’s ordeal. The SLAJ executive is accused by critics of becoming politically compromised.
Today also, the leadership and executives of the main opposition All People’s Congress Party (APC) of which Dr Blyden is a member and an aspiring presidential candidate of the party, are facing growing condemnation for failing to publiish a statement about the unlawful detention and continuing harassment of Dr Blyden by the government.
The APC party chairman and former president of Sierra Leone – Ernest Bai Koroma, is accused by supporters of Dr Blyden of hypocrisy, calling him a “sell-out”.