Kelvin Lewis: SLAJ President: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 May 2018:
We recall that from the 29th of April to May 3rd in 1991, African Newspaper Journalists gathered in the town of Windhoek in Namibia and put together a powerful declaration on the principles of a free press.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which had funded the seminar “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press” later endorsed the declaration at its General Conference.
So, for 26 years now we have continued to recognise May 3rd, the day on which the Windhoek declaration was signed, as World Press Freedom Day. On this day journalists gather together, to remind the World, about the benefits of a Free press to society. We also look back at the challenges to a free press and freedom of expression in our various countries and how these challenges can be overcome.
This year the Universal theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law.”
The true media’s role should be not to take sides so as to be able to objectively and without fear or favour speak truth to power. It is our duty to demand justice for the oppressed and this can only be done if the Rule of law is applied in an equitable and just manner.
In the past few weeks, we have seen the very ugly side of our politics. Having won the Presidency, the SLPP supporters have allowed their emotions to overflow. Supporters have rushed in to seize control of state power in a bravado style marching like Roman conquerors with their horses strutting impatiently.
Chasing a Police Chief out of town because of seeming unprofessional policing, stopping judges and evicting them from their state vehicles and visiting homes at night with armed security personnel searching for state property, are actions which create fear and unease.
Events in Parliament
History reminds us that in the 1970’s the then President Siaka Stevens arrested members of the SLPP who had won seats in parliament and kept them locked up until they constitutionally lost their seats through being absent, all in a bid to gain a controlling majority in parliament.
Again in 2012 under Ernest Bai Koroma two members of the SLPP lost their seats through the courts thereby gifting the ruling APC a two thirds majority. Although the SLPP may want to deny it but the wave of injunctions against elected APC members cannot be anything but a juggling for control of the parliament.
In the process the SLPP is seen to be riding roughshod over the laws and procedures much like the APC did.
We call on the leadership of the SLPP to rein in its supporters. It was Mitchel Obama who said “when they go low, we go high.” I would urge the SLPP to take the moral high ground and respect the law, in a fair manner.
In a similar manner we cannot allow the ugly scenes in parliament to pass without comment. While we recognise and fully support the right to protest by every individual, yet we must be guided by the manner of our protest, as the police often warn us when refusing our requests to protest.
It is disgraceful for men and women who will soon take the title of ‘Honourable’ to sweep to the floor documents on the table of parliament which included our most sacred documents, the constitution, the Bible and Koran and go on to step on them like little children – is most unacceptable. This is tantamount to a desecration of all that we hold dear in this country.
We commend the vast majority who walked out in protest as is the norm in parliament, but we totally condemn the small number whose act of desecration will be kept in our phones, on our laptop computers and in the archives of our television stations, to remind us years down the road of a truly red-letter day in our Houses of Parliament when we saw police forcefully evicting honourable men and women. What a shame.
The Judiciary is another cause for concern. The public perception of the way in which justice is dispensed is not good, and this does not help in enhancing peace in the country. These days the judiciary have developed some wonderful Maradona like dribbling skills that one can never predict when the next bombshell will be delivered.
However, we believe that the Judiciary has been handed a golden opportunity to redeem its image, and this they must do with utmost sincerity, honesty and integrity.
Attacks on APC Supporters, Journalists and AYV studios
We also strongly condemn the violence allegedly perpetrated against APC supporters. There should be no place for settling scores or exerting superiority. The SLPP must live up to their well-worn slogan of one country one people.
In the same vein, we call on the APC to condemn the beating of journalist Ibrahim Samura of New Age Newspaper, Thomas Dickson of Salone Times Newspaper and Patrick Jaiah of *Concord Times Newspaper by APC members. One of these journalists was allegedly brutally whipped with chains by APC members – simply for appearing to take photos of wrongful actions.
SLAJ calls on President Maada Bio to ensure that impunity for such crimes is not encouraged. We are disappointed that the Sierra Leone Police are dragging their feet in bringing the APC culprits to book.
When under the APC rule complaints were made against journalists by APC officials this same police were always very quick to arrest and detain and punish journalists.
Now when journalists are beaten up the Police are dragging their feet in bringing the perpetrators to book. The law should be made to apply to everyone and the Police must stop being selective in applying justice.
We also condemn the attack on AYV studios by people who alleged that AYV is supporting the SLPP. The public needs to understand that journalists are merely doing their jobs and they should not condemn us when what we report is not in their favour. We urge the public to desist from such unpatriotic acts.
Assets Declaration for Transparency and Accountability
In line with our avowed role in holding our leader to account we are mindful that former President Koroma did declare his assets to the Anti-Corruption Commission as by law established for all government officials.
We are therefore in line with the Citizens’ Manifesto calling on President Bio to declare his assets. In the same vein we are also calling on former President Koroma to declare his assets on leaving office, as the law demands. It is our wish that these declarations are made public, so that we bring to the table the transparency and accountability, which is in the spirit of the law and the spirit of our Citizens’ manifesto.
The CRC Report
The past elections and the recent events in parliament have shown that there are very big holes in our constitution.
From the manual or electronic tallying right down to the tussle between the past Speaker of Parliament and the Clerk are serious issues of concern.
We therefore most respectfully call on President Bio to re-visit the Justice Cowan Constitutional Review Report.
Our view is that we go back to the very first report before the report in which some people signed and later said they did not sign.
That is the original people’s document and not the final report of the government white paper, which does not represent the people’s voice.
For ten years we were promised the repeal of the criminal libel laws. We are mindful that it is again a commitment in the SLPP manifesto. We look forward to having a constructive dialogue to see how this can be achieved in the shortest possible time.
In closing, let me reiterate that we as journalists will remain true to our profession. You can beat us and lock us in jail. We will still come back and speak truth to power because that is who we are and who we will be.
May the good Lord bless this land that we love our Sierra Leone. Long live SLAJ!
About the author
kelvin LEWIS is the President of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ)