Sierra Leone – calls for UN to investigate unlawful detention and torture of journalist  

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 November 2014

President koroma - Feb 2013As Sierra Leone’s most popular radio talk show journalist – Dr. David Tam Baryoh spends another night at the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, the legality of and constitutional basis for the president’s arrogation of such powers of arrest, are now seriously being questioned by lawyers and civil rights groups. (Photo: President Koroma).

President Koroma says that he ordered the arrest of David Tam Baryoh, because of statements he is alleged to have made on air, which he the president believes to have incited the people of Kono.

But no one in Kono felt incited by Tam Baryoh’s monologue radio programme.

Many Sierra Leoneans contacted by the Sierra Leone Telegraph disagree with Koroma’s decision to arrest the journalist.

Whilst they agree that the radio monologue programme in question, raised several contentious issues of governance that are already in the public domain, the contents of the programme added to the ongoing debate and political discourse about the country’s Constitution, as well as the management of the Ebola crisis.

Furthermore, most people questioned did not feel incited by the contents of the monologue radio programme aired last Saturday, which infuriated and exercised the sensibilities of president Koroma, to a point of maliciously ordering the arrest of Dr. David Tam Baryoh.

An independent human rights group – Rightsway International has made an unprecedented appeal to the international community – including the United Nations, Africa Union, ECOWAS, Commonwealth, European Union and other human rights organisations to investigate allegations of unlawful arrest, torture and detention of David Tam-Baryoh.

This is what Rightsway says in statement issued today:

David Tam Baryoh, a high-profile radio journalist whose reports have often exposed alleged corrupt government officials, was arrested on November 3, 2014, and is being detained at the maximum-security Pademba Road prison in the capital Freetown.

His popular weekly programme, Monologue, was taken off air mid-show, as he interviewed an opposition party spokesman who criticised the president’s alleged intention to run for a third term.

Since his arrest, Tam-Baryoh has been denied access to his wife and family. His lawyers were allegedly constrained to see him.

David-Tam-BaryohHis health is deteriorating, as a result of an alleged delay in allowing access to his doctor for a medical examination. The doctor later confirmed that David Tam Baryoh (Photo) was in a state of ‘hypertensive emergency’.

Elvis Kamara, Director for RightsWay International, said: “The decision to arrest and detain David Tam-Baryoh sends a chilling message of censorship and dictatorship. It is essential that the freedom of the press is upheld, if Sierra Leone is to succeed in the fight to eradicate Ebola.

“There were no accessible emergency media regulations, otherwise rules preventing journalists from questioning government Ebola response, to warrant such an arrest. There can be no reasoning – no justification – for the use of emergency powers to undermine press freedom. The people of Sierra Leone now look to the international community, to be resolute and committed to condemn the excesses of the government’’.

RightsWay is extremely disappointed by the recent Government’s press release issued on November 7, 2014, regarding  the arrest and detention of Tam Baryoh, stating that: ‘’ the Government takes exception to any one preaching tribalism, hatred and promoting divisions in the Nation…’’

Rightsway dismisses the government’s press release as absolutely unfounded, unfortunate, mischievous, totally false, and falls short of inferring, if any, the specific elements of the crime or offences as stipulated under statute or emergency regulations/measures for the arrest and detention.

president koroma end of the road - 220513This is another alleged falsehood which has been peddled with alacrity by the government and most regrettably by senior figures and pro-government media struggling to justify the unjustified alleged unlawful arrest of the journalist. (Photo: President Koroma).

There was no evidence to suggest that Tam Baryoh was inciting tribalism, hatred and promoting divisions during his radio program. The journalist was merely doing his job.

According to information received by RightsWay, President Koroma‘s proclamation of the Public State of Emergency to eradicate Ebola is allegedly being abused.

Regrettably, authorities are allegedly using Emergency Powers to intimidate journalists and suppress dissent. This is a deliberate ploy to undermine press freedom for political gains.

The prolonged and arbitrary detention of Tam-Baryoh is causing more and more concern across Sierra Leone. It is only exacerbating the tensions in the country amid fears of Ebola.

Journalists and human rights defenders have also reported threats, attacks and intimidation.

Rightsway warns that if the arrest of Tam-Baryoh is not immediately investigated, this could lead to unrest in the country.

Sierra Leone is at a crossroads of war and peace, between disorder and rule of law, between a divided Sierra Leone and united Sierra Leone; between fear and hope.

The government must genuinely show that it remains committed to upholding the fundamental human rights of all citizens, and recognise the tremendous role that the media is playing and continues to play in a fragile democracy and in the fight to eradicate Ebola, without imposing unlawful exceptions or limitations.

RightsWay notes the danger to liberty due to the concentration of power in the hands of the President, as inherent in Section 29 of the 1991 Constitution. This section of the Constitution grants the executive enormous public emergency powers, which is now allegedly being abused to curtail fundamental rights and freedoms.

sierra leone youths and election violenceThe Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC, 2004) commented on executive abuse of the public emergency powers, as a contributing factor in the rise of political intolerance and repression in the country.  

Rightsway calls on the Sierra Leonean authorities to act on the opinions of the people, in the interest of justice and immediately release Dr. David Tam Bayoh, who has been detained for exercising his legitimate right for questioning government Ebola response.

The arrest and detention is a serious distraction and diversion from efforts to eradicate Ebola.

Government must therefore ensure that due process is followed even in a state of emergency, in accordance with international standards.

RightsWay calls on the Sierra Leone Independent Media Commission (IMC), Human Rights Commission (HRC), journalists, civil society and lawyers to seek explanations from the Government regarding the unlawful arrest of Dr. Tam Baryoh.

RightsWay maintains that it is essential for groups to vigorously condemn attacks against journalists and to act with due diligence and swiftness to establish an effective regulatory framework on media law and ethics, ensuring that the rights of others are not violated.

RightsWay urges the government to allow journalists and activists to pursue their work and speak up without fear for their safety.  

Meanwhile, the people of Sierra Leone desperately need international support, as we continue working to tackle the ever-increasing challenge to eradicate Ebola.

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