Sierra Leone’s Fourth Estate – the media under attack

Pastor Mohamed Sesay: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 June 2019:

What transpired at Magistrate Court Number 2 in Freetown last Friday, 28th June 2019, in front of Inquiring Magistrate Mark Ngegba, can be safely described as a conspiracy of sorts between his Bench and the Bar against the Fourth Estate in Sierra Leone.

The drama within Court Number 2 last Friday, raises many questions as to first, the credibility of some lawyers in this country, and second if at all some of them are any longer necessary to defend citizens.

It beggars the question also as to why we have a Bar Association in this country. Is it to protect the jobs of lawyers so that other citizens who are not lawyers but who still have the acumen to defend,  could not be allowed to stand in court and defend others?

Four journalists who are all editors were before Magistrate Ngegba last Friday on charges brought against them by lawyer Mohamed Pa  Momo Fofana through a private prosecution: Sallieu Tejan Jalloh aka Sall Tee, Publisher of the Times SL Newspaper;, David Johnson, Editor of the Times SL Newspaper; Mustapha Sesay, General Editor of Standard Times Newspaper; and Abu Bakarr Kargbo, Staff Writer of Standard Times Newspaper.

The charges were brought on allegations that the four journalists defamed and libelled Pa Momo Fofana.

Strangely, before the journalists appeared there was already an affidavit awaiting them which was prepared by lawyer for the complainant opposing bail. From this, it could be deduced that there was a stark determination on the part of the prosecuting team that come what may,  those journalists must face incarceration for the charges brought against them, which at that stage were mere allegations written on a piece of paper meaning that in the eyes of the law the four journalists stood innocent until they could be proved otherwise by a competent court of law.

It was on the basis of that affidavit which vehemently opposed bail that it was agreed by both sides that the complainant must make a token start.

Pa Momo did start but all what was said by him as evidence in chief and without him going under the scrutiny of cross examination, remained mere allegations despite the tendering of the newspapers in which the said allegations were allegedly embedded, but strangely Pa Momo’s lawyer still claimed that they were serious charges even at the point where they were never corroborated by any other witness.

By saying that the charges were serious charges shows a determination to persecute rather than to prosecute.

And imagine that the Constitution of Sierra Leone made it plain that those who are standing accused of any criminal offence are entitled to be told what they did even before they are brought to court; and the suspects must be given the opportunity to make statements but lawyers in this country have been by passing this and going direct to court on the basis of just allegations written by them with no cautionary statements to rely on.

The Sierra Leone Judiciary must be aware of the fact that one of the reasons for the clogging of the courts are these private prosecutions where some lawyers will think of any charges,  copy them from the Public Order Act and pile them on innocent citizens: Abusive language, provocation,  threatening remarks,  threatening language,  the lot which send fear on innocent citizens with many ending up behind bars for mere allegations thought of by some lawyer just for the reason of money but not justice.

There are so many of these fly-by-night cases in the courts.

On the bail or lack of bail issue,  lawyer for Pa Momo Fofana stood on three grounds: The first was that the four journalists were a flight risk even though they were served a day before their appearance, and all them appeared and again all of them have their offices where they could easily be found.

The second reason given by lawyer for Pa Momo Fofana for opposing bail was that it was difficult to serve the editors, but that was found to be a gimmick when lawyer for the editors,  Mr Mamie discovered that the summons was dated Thursday 27th June 2019 and the journalists were before the court on Friday 28th June 2019.

Now by reason of those dates,  there is a wrong here which the Sierra Leone Judiciary must guard against.

Sometime back, the Sierra Leone Judiciary issued out a memo which said that a minimum of three working days must elapse after a defendant is served before that defendant should appear in court.

So, if those journalists were served on Thursday evening to appear the next day Friday morning, means that the rules of the Sierra Leone Judiciary have been flouted which means a Judiciary staff must have joined in the flouting of the rules laid down by his or her bosses which then means a betrayal on the part of that staff which then means there is no longer any reason for that staff to remain a staff of the 3rd arm of government.

The third reason given for opposing bail is that the four journalists will interfere with witnesses through their publications. If this is not laughable I wonder what else is.

The drama continued within Court Number 2 last Friday when two out of four lawyers for the editors,  withdrew their representations.

Three messages this move sends to the general public: First that some lawyers use sentiments in their jobs as lawyers which means that litigants must now fear to approach them.

Second,  some lawyers could no longer again be relied on to seek the interests of their clients which means that when you see them you must run for dear life.

Third,  the idea that lawyers have the right to defend their clients in any matter be it murder or any otherwise has been killed in this country forever, as some lawyers now have the tendency to pick and choose the cases which they could sincerely defend.

Magistrate Ngegba did grant bail but with very stiff conditions which renders the bail itself null and void, contrary to the bail rules of the Sierra Leone Judiciary which has cited cases for which bail must be mandatory.

Magistrate Ngegba pronounced that each of the defendant must have three sureties who must be 50 years old and above, and each of them must be resident in Freetown. Each surety must stand guarantee for the mammoth sum of three hundred million Leones, and two of those must produce title deeds worth that amount.

If the bail conditions are not met, this means that the four journalists will remain incarcerated for a total of eleven days which is beyond the eight days rule, as the case was adjourned to the 9th July.

What if all four journalists decide to make charges against Pa Momo Fofana for defamation, will he suffer same, just on the basis of words written on a piece of paper which will not hold until what are written on it are proved to be correct?

This press is appealing to the authorities of the Sierra Leone Judiciary to intervene in this matter, and order the immediate release of those journalists to be bailed on their own volition.

Pa Momo is not seen in the picture but rather the Sierra Leone Judiciary which always take the stick for crimes it never commits.

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