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“Outdated legislation, illegal detention and charges of sedition and defamation are being used to torment publisher and activist, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden,” the IFEX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”.
Sierra Leonean Government Persecute Journalist, Activist Over Social Media Posts
Sierra Leonean journalist relentlessly persecuted by government
A commentator above said we have only one ‘Sierra Leone’ which is true so it’s best we pray for a peaceful, respectful and law abiding citizenry who try to live with the arm of the law and comport themselves according to the dictates. Just as much as the governed may fall afoul of the law, so likewise can the government and their own functionaries sometimes abuse the law.
Sierra Leone has a budding democracy so we just need pray for peace to reign and for social commentators, bloggers, journalists like Dr. Sylvia Blyden etc. conduct themselves and exercise their freedom of speech within the confines of the law. Whether or not her actions were justified or not, it’s left to the due process of the law to decide that.
Mr Joseph G K Kamara hit the right note in this particular debate. The fact is each and everyone – including the SLPP supporters at large, and in adjunct to those surrounding the President – is instilled with fear to utter a word of dissent against the President and his so-called ‘new direction’ policies. No one has the nerve to put forward a constructive discourse or opinion amidst the current political state of affairs, as a result of the unpredictable nature of the President. Most of the institutions, if not all, including the Judiciary, the Police, the Armed Forces, Civil Society Organisations and Journalists have been politicized – leaving everyone to look like a mouse, as if they have been infected with the Stockholm syndrome.
Certainly, it is a new phase in Sierra Leone politics and in the meantime, the IMPASSE that has been created is to the detriment of the rightful or legitimate course of development of the country as a whole. Since the Bio-SLPP came to power 2 years ago, there has been no prioritization of policies, even though the masses are suffering, coupled with the overt presence of the deliberate marginalization of certain regions in the country. The President does what he likes with a motivation of vengeance, and there is no room to correct or challenge him or else one would find himself in Pademba Road prisons. The whole scenario is reminiscent of the time this President first tasted power. That was when he and his colleagues, the so-called NPRC, overthrew a legitimate government and embarked on the incarceration and killing of opposition members.
In spite of all these, it appears as if it is only the international actors that instituted this President in State House in the first place, that would be able to resolve the prevailing impasse. A greater percentage of the population knew about the character and predatory instincts of Maada Bio, and never voted for him in the past 2018 elections. It was the tenacity of external forces that brought about his inception to power. And, without any reflection to this windfall of opportunity, his main objective is to strengthen his grip on power irrespective of his performance in office. Many will perceive the present circumstances in the country as complete state capture. Only time will tell how the present situation will unravel.
“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”.” If a former Secretary in the Barack Obama administration that was fired for egregious conduct was arrested for libel and other serious crimes, would Obama be expected to intervene to get him/her off the hook of law enforcement? Would President Donald Trump be blamed for human rights violations in such a case? These questions are relevant to developments in Sierra Leone and Africa in general because whenever folks, especially folks in the opposition, go afoul of the law, we expect their political parties to intervene on their behalf. And while we are at this, we join the hypocritical international human rights organizations in accusing the head of state of the country where the arrest occurred of human rights violations.
Yet when opposition politicians in Canada, USA or Britain are arrested for violating the law, we do not see any of the self-righteous and sanctimonious international human rights organizations coming out in full force to condemn the governments of these countries for human rights violations. Why the double standard? As disgusting as the duplicitous Ernest Koroma is, I applaud him for not interfering in any ongoing litigation in Sierra Leone, be it litigation that involves a member of the APC or not.
Those that are now calling on Ernest Koroma to make a statement on Sylvia’s Blyden’s behalf, are the same folks that will attack him tomorrow for interfering in the deliberations of the judiciary. Ernest Koroma knows very well how defiant Sylvia Blyden can be to the law. He knows how much of a handful she was until he brought her into his administration. And he fired her twice for egregious conduct. Is this the person that Ernest Koroma should stick his neck out for? It is interesting that the lady that has always been too quick to give anybody a thorough dressing down, the lady that loves touting herself as the future president of Sierra Leone, is now so scared of going to jail that she is seeking help from all corners of the world. Is Pademba Road that bad?
Mr. Bilal Coleman, thank you so much brother. This organization calling themselves “human right” – no they are lying they are “human left”. If they are capable of defending the human abuses around the world, let them go to Lybia, Egypt, Sudan, Venezuela Brazil and so on. Dr. Sylvia is supposed to stay calm and steady. This human left organization has to leave Bio alone and let the President be, let him be able to perform his job perfectly. May God protect both the leaders and the country.
Where there is smoke,there also you will find fire;This President still doesn’t understand or believe in the intrinsic principles that govern all the credible and progressive democratic nations in the world.Without question,he has already tenaciously committed countless atrocities that are more than enough to guarantee him a cozy little cell in the Hague.
Hey! The APC cannot be drawn into every little political skirmish and fracas;The stakes are just too high to be messing around.If Dr Blyden will just listen to the advice of the APC hierarchy everything will be just fine;but she lacks discipline,doesn’t want to fall in line,but instead is intent on promoting,and enforcing her own personal beliefs vendettas and agendas against all good and logical sense of judgement.
How can such a lady that thrives on insubordination and perversity, that acts like a loose cannon at all times endangering lives,and livelihoods be entrusted with power to govern a nation as complicated like Sierra Leone? Madam,you need to properly understand the daunting demands of the terrain in which you are striving to excel,and achieve dominion;for who is it that has ever seen a hunter chasing ruthless hyenas and wolves in the jungle without a fully loaded dependable weapon?
A big thank you to CPJ, IFEX, MFWA, FAJ and many other international journalist bodies who stood with complete solidarity, in this fight against injustice to our Beloved Mother. It was no mistake that only the grass root people took up the fight with Dr. Blyden. The country is not too safe, everyone is afraid. and those that should stand for the masses are being politicized.
One thing I like about Sylvia is that, she likes building castles in the air. All these so called international human rights organisations you are seeking attention from to smear the image of your country in the name of politics, have they ever disclosed to you a single piece of information about their countries human rights abuses? Has the human right organisation in the U.S. complain to you about their country’s human right abuses?
Sylvia, you are not doing Bio but your very self. You will have to bear the consequences of your actions soonest. Do you think you are smarter than any other Sierra Leonean? Are you really seeing yourself? Bragging about APC flagship for 2023 hmm! Except EBK repeat his 2017 mistake he did in Makeni.
While I do not support the detention of any journalist or social media practitioner for his or her views on matters beneficial for the poor and majority citizens, I cannot blame SLAJ for not supporting madam Blyden. Madam Blyden’s offence if any, was not committed as a journalist. In fact she had distanced herself from the journalistic body for a long time. She stopped paying membership fees long ago. Also, she fought war with them when SLAJ started the fight under first Philip Neville leadership and continued under the Kevin Lewis leadership to frustrate the efforts of not having the libel law repealed. She was not arrested because of articles published in the paper she owns.
With regards blaming the APC, granted her family are founding members of the APC. Recently, she published in many online papers that she had suspended her membership of the formidable APC. She is yet to publish a retraction of that letter. How would you expect the secretariat to stand in for a person who had without any valid reason suspended her membership of the party? Sylvia Blyden had a personal issue to grind with the current president and that problem started well before she registered to become a member of the APC. In fact but for that problem, she was going to register with the SLPP especially if Wusu Boye Kamara or John Benjamin succeeded to clinch the SLPP leadership.
It is unfortunate that the so called international journalistic bodies did not do due diligence as to why the country’s journalistic body decided to distance themselves for one of their own.
She is still the publisher of Awareness Times. What more is needed to show she is a journalist.
Well said my friend. People only look through one side of their lens. In short with respect to your last sentence, I will emphatically state that it’s lazy journalism. Do your homework on Sylvia Blyden before you castigate the government. Sylvia is a controversial and one that cannot control her impulse. Sylvia is pompous, arrogant, disrespect for the rule of law, and a political prostitute.
Here we go, this is what Dr. Sylvia was looking for, a fame! Congratulation! You will be selected the next APC aspirant, presidential candidate coming 2023. Now, we have got the two famous individuals that risked their lives recently and almost death or jail time. But the question is, will APC allow you to challenge anyone of them? it’s a $$$ question. I personally wish you all the best. My opinion is, this has to do nothing with president H.E. President Bio.
I believed the Sierra Leone police force are responsible. They have to conduct a through investigation, whosoever found guilt of any crime, should face the penalty, that’s my opinion. My main advise to Dr. Sylvia now is, be quiet and let the people talk on your behalf. Mistakes happen in any gov’t but ay the end of the day, the administration might tell you “I am so sorry” it happens. May God bless Sierra Leone
Who the hell are you to tell someone to be quiet?… You’re lucky That I can’t curse on this platform.
According to this report, President highlighted how various governments of different shades of colours, have used Sierra Leone’s Public Order Act of 1965, that criminalises any publication that is deemed defamatory or seditious to harass and imprison journalists for their own political ends. Everyone knows that’s where our problems lies. A country can’t develop without free press. In any country, free press is the voice of the ordinary man and woman . In the absence of strong opposition, the press is the one that takes the role to hold governments to account. At the end of the day if president Bio, recognise this 1965 Act, as a tool of oppression against journalists, and people expressing their views on other platforms, why is his government using the same play book he was criticising in 2018?
Surely if you diagnosed the problem, you should cure it, rather than inflamed it, as your government appears to be doing . In my analytic mind, the only reason why president Bio, came out recently to talk about press freedom, is not because he had his road to Damascus conversion of press freedom moment, or suddenly he woke up and became the high priest, or champion of press freedom, more to do with James Duddridge the UK minister that comes out criticising the Bio government, for its suppression of press freedom.
I only wish the president listens to Sierra Leoneans that are urging him to dump this colonial Act of 1965 . His recent statement on this subject is a step in the right direction. But enough of the talking, you have to act. The buck stops with you the president. May God bless the Republic of Sierra Leone.
You got it wrong sir, expunging the 1965 Act had been one of his campaign messages. It’s not because of the noise Sylvia and some of you are making that has led the expedition of the process. The government has been working tirelessly on this over a year now.
“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,”
Couldn’t agree any further, yet we have bootlickers and delusional extremist supporters of the regime parading cyberspace making a fool of themselves, chattering about the proposals to repeal the archaic and tyrannical law, even though the regime has weaponised the same law to terrorize and stifle citizens freedom of expression.
I think president Bio wants to institute changes. The problem is, he is hemmed in by some extreme elements around him that are not looking at the big picture. Where the president sees green, these tribalistic elements are only seeing red. Unfortunately for Sierra Leone these misguided misfits are the same individuals that have very litte interest to lay tangible foundations for future developments of our country. These so called political activits or special advisers are just in it for themselves. And the way they ply their trade is to convince the president that anyone who disagrees with him is plotting to distabilize his government.
The president should stop listening to people like that and move our country away from this politics of division our country is stuck in. Everyone stands to gain in a country like ours. We are all in this together. There is only one country called Sierra Leone. And there is only one nationality called Sierra Leonean. If I am walking down fifth avenue in New York and a stranger stopped me, and ask me whats your nationality? I won’t say I am from Fulani land. He or she will think I am barking mad. So all tbose Sierra Leoneans wedded in tribal politics or identity politics need to have their brains checked. May God bless the republic of Sierra Leone.