Sierra Leone Telegraph: 08 June 2020:
Sierra Leone’s former minister of social welfare, and journalist – Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, who was arrested on the 1st of May 2020 by heavily armed police who broke into her home, after criticising the president for his approach in handling the coronavirus pandemic, as well as commenting on twitter about the appalling conditions a political opponent of the president – Palo Conteh is being kept in prison, will today appear in court.
Dr Blyden who has been charged with ten counts of seditious libel and what the government describes as cyber-crimes against the State, was granted bail two weeks ago by a magistrate, after spending almost a month in prison without charge.
But she was immediately arrested again by police five days ago, on what has been described as trumped-up allegations that she violated court rules by discussing her case on social media which is classified as ‘sub-judice’.
It is understood that Dr Blyden will today appear in court to defend herself without legal representation.
What many in Sierra Leone and outside find troubling, is what they see as the ruling party’s obsession with Dr Sylvia Blyden, who is perceived as a formidable opposition voice to the government’s excesses, especially with regards to poor governance and violation of human rights in the country.
Her supporters and human rights activists are calling on Amnesty International and the international community to intervene.
On Friday, 22nd May 2020, Dr Blyden was charged with ten counts of seditious libel under Sections 33, 32 and 27 of the notorious Public Order Act No 46 of 1965, which successive governments of Sierra Leone have used to harass, intimidate and persecute those with whom they disagree, especially journalists.
So, what does the Public Order Act No 46 of 1965 say?
According to Section 33 (1), “any person who (a) does or attempts to do, or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act with a seditious intention; or (b) utters any seditious words; or (c) prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication; or (d) imports any seditious publication, unless he has no reason to believe it is seditious shall be guilty of an offence and liable for a first offence to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to a fine not exceeding one thousand leones or to both such imprisonment and fine, and for a subsequent offence shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, and every such publication shall be forfeited to the government.”
Section 32 (1) – “Any person who publishes any false statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear or alarm, to the public or to disturb the public peace shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding three hundred Leones or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding twelve months, or to both such fine and imprisonment. (2) Any person who publishes any false statement, rumour or report which is calculated to bring into disrepute any person who holds an office under the Constitution, in the discharge of his duties shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred Leones or to imprisonment not exceeding two years or both.”
Section 27 – “Any person who maliciously publishes any defamatory matter shall be guilty of an offence called libel and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding seven hundred Leones or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
The government is hoping that the court will find Dr Blyden guilty as charged, on all or some of the ten counts she is alleged to have committed, which have been described by her supporters and some legal experts as bogus and politically motivated.
Below is Dr Blyden’s court charge sheet obtained from a source in the government’s justice department:
The following list of items were removed from Dr Blyden’s premises by armed police to be presented in court as evidence in support of the allegations as charged: