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:
DEMOCRACY IN MONARCHICAL DRESS
If you do not say the truth, you are in the lairs cupboard.
Our hard-won freedom is a success reality from the 60s to the 80s and half of the 90s. Democracy, as defined by some known political theorists (Abraham, Thomas,etc.), Should a government in power be based on consentual agreement of all legible citizens.
But it seems Sierra Leone’s democracy is one that has been coated in a tyrannical dress. Here, governments do not repespect the rights and diginity of the people, though seemingly put in the country’s sacred book – the Constitution. I have always seen, faced and interfaced injustices, breach and violation of human rights.
Chapter 3 of the 1991 SL’s Constitution ” Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Riths, is nothing but wasted ink on paper.
How often have you seen, heard, witnessed unlawful arrest, detention and imprisonment of sought-for-the truth citizens? Retaliation, tit for tat, political witch hunt are now established norms in Sierra Leone.
Before and during campaigns, the Bio SLPP led government put into its manifesto progress driven plans. Free and quality education, human capital development, infrastructures, food on the table, fight against injustices, creating room for political inclusiveness and more on the list.
Alsa! after swearing in to the highest office, all we are seeing are the reverse. If this continues, would there be a bright future for the youths yet unborn? Mr. President, you had a genuine intention for Mama Salone. Do not let the sycophants misguide you from that genuine intention.
PLEASE USE YOUR PREROGATIVE OF MERCIES TO PARDON ALL POLITICAL DETAINEES.
Long live Sierra Leone, short live the sycophants.
Wow, are these charges a joke of some sort? Since when is it a crime to vocally criticize a sitting government and call them out for the seeming flaws that exist in their governance approach? This is insanity at the highest level. I mean, when EBK was in power, how many of you SLPP extremists now calling for the lynching of Dr, Blyden, went on facebook posting a tirade of invectives and calling out the APC government for their corrupt tendencies?
Is it a crime for Dr. Blyden to have posted on facebook that Paolo conteh was being held under inhumane conditions? What is the crime in saying that there is systemic tribalism in the current government? I am not sure what these guys are smoking, however, in this day and age of technology, no regime can shut down citizen’s freedom to call out the many injustices permeating in our societies.
This public order act of 1965, is a draconian law being used to silence the only one effective opposition voice to this government. As if this government have not got enough on their plates, with COVID19 pandemic and trying to work out plans for the post pandemic threat to our economy, that is sure to hit our country hard. If Dr Sylvia Bylden is guilty of any thing, she is guilty of being a woman with a voice. The Winnie Mandela of our times. Everyone will agree our correction facilities are not fit for human habitation. Pademba Road prison and Mafanta prison in Magburaka just being two of them. Before the lock down, and if you want to have an audience with Mr President, it has to be at Lungi International airport, instead of the office of the president at State House.
This president has more airline mileage under his belt than the previous ones combined. So I do not know what is the fuss about, if someone points it out? It strikes me as a political witch hunt, full of vendetta, misogyny, a woman making her voice heard in a male dominated society. What does it say about our country? Women and girls, are not allowed to have an opinion. They should just stay at home and cook and look after their young. Welcome to Sierra leone in the 21st century. And making an example of her, for those that think they want to contribute to the political debates in our country, to think hard before they embark on such adventure. Surely, it is against social media platforms policy to incite hate.
If the government feel so offended by her social media postings, it is right to say Facebook executives or any other social media organisations that publish her libelous statements, should be in the dock as well? Because they too violated the public order act of 1965. Or better still, the government of Sierra Leone should seek some form of compensation for the hurt they have caused our country and putting our security at risk. My countrymen and women, if we do not get our priorities right, like how to lift our people out of poverty, I am afraid we are sleep walking into becoming a police state.
*claps*claps*claps*. Agree with all of the above. All of this is just to make an example of her, her having the audacity to voice her opinions about the sitting Sierra Leone government. Might as well arrest half of Sierra Leone, most of the diaspora, and even the people who see the potential in this country, and yet the government picks on the low bearing fruit.