The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 January 2014
A government that does not respect press freedom cares very little about the civil liberty and human rights of its people. President Koroma of Sierra Leone is now displaying all the hallmarks of a communist style despot.
(Photo: Former rebel leader – Johnny Paul Koroma – cousin of the president – wanted by the international criminal court).
But what is surprising for many Sierra Leoneans is the betrayal of the international community, whose silence can only be interpreted as acquiescence, if not complicity, as the Koroma government unleashes its militia on the country’s journalists.
Sierra Leone is slowly returning to the repressive and autocratic state of the 1970s and 1980s, which gave rise to the ten year brutal rebel war that took the lives of over 200,000 people.
Yet neither the international community or president Koroma seems to have learnt the lessons of the past.
State repression, the strangulation of the country’s media and rising youth unemployment can only lead to one thing in the long-run: Anarchy and political instability.
And once the genie is let out of the bottle, getting it back in can be more difficult, if not impossible.
During the last twelve months – since Koroma’s re-election into office for a second term, his avaricious appetite for power and his disdain for the very press freedom that won him the 2007 elections in the first place, have become worrisome. He is becoming a despot.
And for liberal democrats – in and outside of the country, whose hope of a better Sierra Leone has been pinned on the uncompromising position of the international community in safeguarding human rights and civil liberty, there is a feeling now of hopelessness and betrayal.
Liberals, now feel betrayed by an international community that is no longer capable or willing to hold president Koroma accountable, for his reckless actions against his own people.
With growing poverty, rising unemployment, massive corruption in high places and a volatile government, little wonder the country’s media have become enemy of the state.
But whilst the international community may not want to ruffle the feathers of Koroma for fear of losing his ‘favour’, the risk of alienating the people and radicalising the youths is growing by the day.
Koroma’s declaration of war against those with whom he disagrees, including his vice president and the country’s media, is a recipe for disaster in an already volatile country, and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) is extremely concerned.
In a press statement published on Tuesday, 14 January 2014, the president of SLAJ – Kelvin Lewis asked: “When government ministers have no regard for State institutions, how can they expect the public to respect these institutions and by extension the offices they themselves hold?”
This is what the statement says:
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) is deeply concerned about the increasing use of the Police and the Courts by government ministers to harass journalists.
In the alleged criminal libel case between Political Affairs Minister Kemoh Sesay and journalist Labor Fofanah, we are concerned that Fofanah was refused bail and had to spend a day in prison before the case was heard; and for the extremely high bail demand totalling one billion Leones.
In the case of Transport and Aviation Minister Leonard Balogun Koroma and Journalist David Tam-Baryoh, we are concerned that a text message seeking clarification was deemed as seditious libel and the journalist detained by police on “orders from above” only to be released after a huge one hundred million Leones bail condition was met.
On the issue of Information Minister Alpha Kanu and the Independent Observer Newspaper, Journalist Jonathan Leigh is being questioned for allegedly publishing a story regarding concerns raised by a group of Internet Service Providers.
Further, that the Police chose to raid the offices of the Independent Observer newspaper on Saturday January 11, four days after the story was published on Tuesday (7/1/14). (Photo: Balogun on far right and Kanu on far left).
We are concerned that these are the usual tricks employed by the Police to ensure journalists are kept in detention over the long weekend much against their basic human rights.
SLAJ is particularly troubled by the complete disregard by government ministers for State institutions, in this case the Independent Media Commission (IMC).
SLAJ President Kelvin Lewis asked: “When government ministers have no regard for State institutions, how can they expect the public to respect these institutions and by extension the offices they themselves hold?”
SLAJ also notes the unprofessional manner in which the Police are allowing themselves to be used by politicians to harass journalists unjustly along with the frivolous use of the seditious libel laws.
We however call on all journalists to continue to maintain the peace while we plan our next line of action.”
The international community can no longer afford to sit on the fence and watch the abuse of power and gross violation of civil liberty and press freedom, by a government that drapes itself with the flag of despotism.
The international community must not abandon its monitoring role in Sierra Leone. The risk of the country returning to anarchy and instability is very high.
Koroma is a desperate leader who must be held accountable for his actions, if Sierra Leone’s hard won peace is to be maintained.