Sierra Leone Telegraph: 08 June 2020:
The seditious libel case involving Sierra Leone’s former minister of social welfare and journalist – Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, was adjourned today to Friday 12 June 2020, after prosecution witness who is the lead police investigator – Detective M.K. Alieu, was cross-examined by Blyden who is representing herself in court.
The trial which was expected to commence this morning, did not start until very late in the afternoon.
During cross-examination, Dr Blyden questioned Detective M.K. Alieu as to why her property was being subjected to heavy daily police presence, which gives the false impression that she is a threat to national security, to which the detective said he does not know why.
Blyden also pleaded to the Magistrate to grant her bail, a request the magistrate may well consider at the next sitting on Friday.
She also told the magistrate that she needs access to IT resources, so as to help prepare her case, as she is representing herself in court. The magistrate said that the prison authorities should provide the necessary support.
The case was adjourned to next Friday.
Blyden was arrested on the 1st of May 2020 by heavily armed police who broke into her home, after she criticised the president’s approach in handling the coronavirus pandemic.
She is charged on ten counts of seditious libel and what the government describes as cyber-crimes against the State, charges she strongly denies.
There are reports, Blyden is concerned about her safety and is in fear of plots to assassinate her.
Two weeks ago, Blyden was granted bail by magistrate after spending almost a month in prison without charge.
But she was immediately arrested again by police five days ago, on trumped-up allegations that she had violated court rules by discussing her case in social media which is classified as ‘sub-judice’.
What many in Sierra Leone and outside find troubling, is 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 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 do these sections of the Public Order Act 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) states: “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 states: “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.
Dr Blyden today requested her previous bail conditions to be reinstated so that she can be released from pdetention in prison where she is being kept in appalling conditions.
The case continues on Friday.