Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 September 2019:
A few weeks ago, a local journalist in Sierra Leone published a damning story about the propriety of a senior Judge in the country, Justice Miatta M. Samba – who is an Appeals Court Judge. In his story, Mahmud Tim Kargbo accused the Judge of corruption and incompetence.
He said that the Judge had allowed former officials and ministers in the previous APC led government to get away with rampant corruption with impunity.
Mahmoud wrote: “Is there any reason on earth, why this character, Miatta Samba, who parades as a judge of the High Court of the Republic of Sierra Leone, should not be charged as an accomplice to the several corruptions that happened in the past regime, some of which led to the death of fellow nationals whilst suffering in a number of odd ways from the corrupt actions of previous people in social positions of trust?
“(Justice?) Miatta Samba’s action in issuing bail to these State looters is tantamount to what will perhaps qualify as one of the most dense, unjust, infantile and nonsensical High Court action any judicial system in the world may ever have the misfortune of staining its record books.
“Thieves of the previous regime that stole millions of tax payers monies, and admitted to the Anticorruption Commission that they are indeed guilty of stealing state funds went to the Court and appealled against their own very conscience. Surprisingly they were given bail and allowed to walk freely in the streets whilst petty criminals are languishing at the Pademba Road prison. The thieves promptly celebrated and walked out of Court, as free people!”.
Mahmoud then went on to refer to the conduct of the Judge as a “piece of trash” – a serious insult that provoked the sensibilities of many in Sierra Leone, calling for justice to be meted out to the journalist.
“This character, Miatta Samba, before whom some Sierra Leonean lawyers practicing in Sierra Leone will bow before and exclaim ‘My Lord’ ought to have her head and conscience examined! In all my years as a Sierra Leonean national monitoring the activities of the Bar, no piece of trash has so made me ashamed of the Legal Profession in Sierra Leone as the conduct of this character, who is supposed to know better.”
Mahmoud also rained insults and accusations at the country’s Judiciary. This is what he said:
“…………….In a contraption like ours, where the Judiciary is fantastically corrupt, lacks integrity and has the habit of encouraging State looters to be in a legal marathon with the Anti-Corruption Commission irrespective of the evidence the Anti-Corruption Commission provides, it’s very important for the Anti-Corruption Commissioner to settle corruption matters out of court and retrieve looted funds, instead of charging these people to court where they will use these corrupt funds to compromise justice and walk away freely at the expense of tax payers.
“The very least that can be done to redeem the image of the Sierra Leone’s Legal profession (if truly anyone is so interested) is for Miatta Samba to be immediately dismissed and investigated for corrupt activities. And a re-arrest of these alleged State looters!”
Following the publication of that story which is said to have deeply offended the Judge, it is understood that the journalist – Mahmud Tim Kargbo, went to Judge Samba’s chambers and tendered an unreserved apology.
But the Judge decided to report the matter to the police under the Criminal Libel Laws contained in the 1965 Public Order Act, which makes the defamation of character a criminal offence.
Mahmud Tim Kargbo was then arrested, denied bail and charged to court.
According to reports, Justice Miatta Samba appeared in court this morning in Freetown, where she appealed for the journalist to be granted bail but wants the matter to be heard in court, so her name can be cleared.
Justice Miatta Samba said she decided to appear at the Magistrate Court as a complainant in order to clear her name but not to persecute the journalist.
“I hold a post-graduate degree in Human Rights law and so I’m mindful of rights of accused persons which rights I know come with corresponding duties that the accused has failed to adhere to. I am not opposed to him being granted Bail because the essence of bail conditions is merely to secure the appearance of an Accused in court,” the Appeals Court Judge stated, as she reiterated her wish for Mahmud Tim Kargbo to be granted Bail whilst the matter proceeded to clear her name through a judicial process.
Yesterday, Mahmud Tim Kargbo published this written apology to Justice Samba: “I hereby tender a sincere apology to the Honourable Justice Miatta Samba of the Appeal Court of the Republic of Sierra Leone for the negative effect my publication titled: “Justice Redefined by Miatta Samba” caused on her person.
“I sincerely regret my action and am not under any duress to tender the said apology. I would like to genuinely distance myself from a publication in www.theorganiser.net in Google, in which the unidentified author said I was forced to apologise to the Honourable Justice Miatta Samba.
“Let me categorically state that the author of the said article never consulted my person nor did he discuss with me before he went to press. The action of the author is unprofessional and failed to meet established principles of modern day journalism.
“The whole truth of the matter was I misunderstood the judgement of her Lady Miatta Samba’s reasoning on the said article before I published it. Therefore, I sincerely apologise to the Honourable Justice Miatta Samba and her family and the entire Judiciary including members of the fourth estate.”
Mahmud Tim Kargbo will appear in court again at the adjourned date. In the meantime he has not been granted bail because there was no one available and willing to act as Surety.
This case once again raises serious questions about freedom of speech, journalism, the right not to be defamed, and the country’s criminal libel laws, at a time when the government is preparing to submit a Bill to Parliament calling for the abolition of the Criminal Libal Laws.
Correction: An earlier version of this article published yesterday misstated that Mahmoud was granted bail. He was not. He is expected in court again today 25 September 2019.
This is Mahmoud reading out his statement of apology at a police station yesterday, before he was dragged to court today:
This case bears the very important message that we should not model our wobbly democracy on Western values which are inherently different from ours as Sierra Leoneans and Africans.Or if we must copy what obtains in the West we must ensure that we doctor it for it to fit efficiently into our expectations.
In any case Africa is the cradle of democracy since it is indisputably the cradle of mankind. Like so many things, whatever emanates from Africa is spirited away,documented,transformed and sent back to the Continent as something novel.To this day our chiefs effectively hold their position for life within the framework of an unwritten constitution.Defamation never has to be dealt with within the chiefdom because people watch their mouth vis-vis their elders and leaders.
As more Western ways creep into our society by way of our laws we should be ready to cope with all the dimensions that escort them.So if defamation is not a criminal but a civil offense in the West,the same should apply in Sierra Leone. Mahmoud should not have spent five minutes in a police cell.His actions toward the judge should have only warranted an elaborate lawsuit designed to bankrupt him and the medium he used for life through financial damages awarded by a judge.
There is another element which should be addressed.All public figures in the West recognise that they are fair game when it comes to public anger and frustration,it comes with the job.If government and other public figures in Sierra Leone find this untenable they should make representation to the legislature to amend the laws to reflect our own unique way of life.
Mahmoud’s written tirade against the judge underlines the feelings of most Sierra Leoneans because the judiciary can hardly be distinguished from the legislature and executive these days. If all we can do is copy the West we should go all the way.
Mahmud Tim Kargbo went too far in his critique of Justice Miata Samba, but that in itself didn’t warrant his arrest and detention. His critique demonstrated his displeasure with the dual justice system that so many folks also share. This is a dual justice system that treats the powerful and powerless differently (ie, rewarding the rich and powerful, while punishing the poor and powerless!).
Unfortunately for Kargbo, his characterization of Justice Samba as “a piece of trash” made his message on this judicial duality to be lost. What his arbitrary detention portrays is that free speech and journalism are a risky business in a banana republic like Sierra Leone. Like other journalists before him, his detention was to send a clear message to him and others to exercise self-censorship in the future. After all, that’s the norm in authoritarian and semi-authotitarian states that have censorship laws.
The 1965 Public Order Act is a repressive piece of legislation that successive govts.have used to their advantage. Its libel laws are there to coerce journalists to censor themselves in matters dealing with big people. Abolishing such an Act with all its repressive laws, would help us achieve the very transparency and accountability we want our politicians and public servants to exercise.
This story about a remorseful Journalist and a tender-hearted forgiving Judge, can become an instant crowd-puller – an epic, romantic Nigerian movie.(lol) What happened to Mr Kargbo’s pride and self esteem. You insulted and rudely attack a Judge, just like a wounded hyena hunting down a deer, and when she stands her ground and shows you her sharp, single structured antlers, your knees begin to buckle and give out in fear.(lol)
Listen Mahmoud, real men think first, deeply and wisely before they speak. And when they do, they stand by their words – they never apologise in vain. Serves you right – You tried to tarnish her image but failed; now she’s using the law to reduce and abase you into submission. (lmao)…Rising Sun Will Rise Again.