President Koroma is NOT a champion of freedoms

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 October 2013

Sierra Leoneans old enough to remember former president Siaka Stevens’ modus operandi and political Machiavellianism, would see similar traits in the dictatorial tendency and extremist methods being employed by president Koroma today. (Photo: Stevens).

Both presidents share the same philosophy and ideology, which makes North Korea the pariah state that it has become; scorned and shunned by the civilised world. Can Sierra Leone afford to become the North Korea of Africa?

The arrest and detention of journalists in Sierra Leone on a possible treason charge, for metaphorically referring to president Koroma as a rat is a sign of political madness.

No government should justify contemplating treason charges on any of its citizens who simply express an opinion about the president’s demeanour, let alone journalists whose job it is to speak out for the voiceless.

The truth is that few ever believed president Koroma when he claimed in 2007 that he will be a strong defender of freedoms, human rights and civil liberty.

President Koroma inauguration 2013President Koroma just cannot resist showing his true colour when it comes to justice, despite claiming to be a devout Christian.

Some of his now closest advisers have themselves once portrayed the president in the media as a dangerous and evil beast with two horns that must be feared.

Those same journalists now happily parading the corridors of State House as the omnipotent all powerful, had also published articles referring to president Koroma as a serial philanderer who does not give a damn about his wife and matrimonial home.

And when president Koroma was spitting fire at those journalists – now turned State House lackeys, support for their right to free speech was quite rightly overwhelming.

So it is today too, that every just and upright citizen of Sierra Leone is now calling for the immediate release of those journalists who have been incarcerated by the tyrannical Koroma regime.

President Koroma is said to have run away from the heat he has ignited in Freetown to seek refuge in London, leaving his vice president to sort out the mess that he has left behind.

Similarly, in 2009 when president Koroma decided to close down the radio station belonging to the country’s main opposition party – the SLPP, he did exactly the same – left the shores of Sierra Leone for vice president Sam Sumana to sort out his mess.

sam sumanaWhat is the game plan here? Is president Koroma setting up his ‘voiceless’ vice president Sumana (Photo) for a big fall?

Quite simply, the office of presidency is not the personal property of Koroma, that he can treat with such crude contempt and bring into disrepute.

He was elected by the people to lead – and lead fairly, not to cherry pick those elements of justice and civil liberty that he likes and dumping the ones he finds nauseating. That is poor governance and poor leadership.

Journalists such as Jonathan Leigh may have become a pain in the president’s butt, and so what? Politics and leadership is all about having a thick skin to shrug off and turn a blind eye on the messages that are irritating, whilst basking in the ones that massage the ego.

pressIt seems in president Koroma’s RED book of North Korean style political philosophy, if the hand cannot keep still – cut it off. But this is not going to work in a fledgling democracy such as that being built in Sierra Leone, after ten years of bloody civil war.

International friends of president Koroma ought to remind him of his duty to all the citizens of Sierra Leone – including those journalists whose publications he may find galling.

Condemnation of the president’s action has been swift – both at home and abroad. This is what Reporters Without Borders says:

“Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the way the authorities seem bent on hounding Jonathan Leigh, the managing editor of the Independent Observer, an opposition daily, and Bai Bai Sesay, its editor, over an editorial critical of President Ernest Bai Koroma.

“The two journalists have been detained ever since their arrest by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on 18 October, a day after they published the editorial, which was headlined: “Who is molesting who, the President or the VP?”

“We call on the courts to free these two journalists immediately and unconditionally, as they have been held arbitrarily for seven days in appalling conditions,” Reporters Without Borders said.

FRANCIS MUNU - I G“We are also amazed by all the different judicial and administrative proceedings in this case. Why was the CID, a police unit that is supposed to investigative major crimes, the first to intervene? And, as well as the civil suit brought by the ruling party on the president’s behalf, why is the Independent Media Commission also trying to get in on the act?

“What is the reason for such determination to persecute two journalists who just did their job by publishing an opinion piece? We call on the government to comply with its international obligations to respect freedom of expression and guarantee press freedom.”

“The head of the CID initially said Leigh and Sesay were to be prosecuted under section 33 of the 1965 Public Order Act, which concerns libel. It was later reported that they had been charged with “inciting treason” under article 17 (3)(a) of the constitution. The change to a more serious charge is indicative of the level of political influence over the investigation.

president koroma - military commander“At the same time, the ruling All People’s Congress has brought a libel suit against Leigh and Sesay on President Koroma’s behalf. Immediately after the article’s publication, the President demanded the publication of a retraction and an “unreserved apology” but they were arrested before they had time to respond.

“And, finally, the Independent Media Commission (ICM), the government’s media regulatory body, issued a summons to the two journalists on 22 October to appear for questioning.

“Moses Kargbo, the secretary-general of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) told Reporters Without Borders that a judge refused to release on bail Leigh and Sesay when they appeared in court yesterday afternoon. The journalists were charged with “seditious libel”. The reading of the charges lasted over an hour. Another hearing is scheduled for 29 October. Meanwhile, they are to be held in Freetown’s main prison.

“Attempts to intimidate the media are continuing. The Independent Observer’s printer as well as journalists with Global Times and Salone Times have been summoned for questioning by the police.

“Sierra Leone is ranked 61st out of 178 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), which is headed by Kelvin Lewis – proprietor of Awoko Newspaper issued the following statement:

“The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) is appalled by the sustained attack on the media and media practitioners over the past seven (7) days.

“This action we now believe may not be unconnected with the threat issued on the Sierra Leone media some months ago by senior state functionaries. Over the past six (6) days five (5) media houses have been searched and eleven (11) media practitioners have been arrested, interrogated and some detained by police officers.

“Starting with the arrest and subsequent detention of editors Jonathan Leigh and Bai-Bai Sesay of the Independent Observer newspaper last Friday 18th October; the searching of Premier Media offices and arrest and detention of the head printer; invitation by the Police on Wednesday 23rd October of the editors and publishers of the Global Times, Sheik Bawoh and Sorie Fofanah, and Salone Times newspaper’s Donald Theo Harding, Thomas Dixon and proprietor Andrew Keili; to the search on Tuesday night 22nd October of the offices and printing press of the Concord Times newspaper.

“This is an attack on the press which has not been seen since the end of the war,” says SLAJ President Kelvin Lewis.

“After a peaceful protest march involving over 50 journalists to the Police, along with the invitees, the Police with the intervention of the Information Minister Alpha Kanu – who disclosed that he was acting under instructions by President Koroma – the six media practitioners and proprietors invited for interrogation of having libelled Sylvia Blyden were unconditionally released.

law_court_building“Journalists Jonathan Leigh and Bai-Bai Sesay were on Wednesday 23rd October charged with 26 counts of seditious and defamatory Libel against President Ernest Bai Koroma, and had their bail application denied by Magistrate Komba Kamanda on grounds of “repetition”. The case is adjourned to Tuesday 29th October 2013.

“It is a sad day for democracy. The journalists’ Human Rights have been violated by unconstitutionally detaining them for more than three days and as such this government can no longer lay claim to any human rights record,” says Mr. Lewis.”

Mo Ibrahim has decided not to shower his excellence accolade on any African leader this year, despite supporters of president Koroma seriously believing that he is the best leader in Africa, and that his conduct in office is a benchmark for others to follow.

But with despots like president Koroma sitting on the throne in Africa, is it really surprising that Mo Ibrahim is struggling to part with his cash?

What is truly worrying is that Sierra Leone under president Koroma, will soon be joining North Korea for its poor human rights record.