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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Release by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa on Threats, Harrassment and Intimidation Against Journalists in Sierra Leone

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Ms Pansy Tlakula, is concerned about information she has received on alleged violations of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in the Republic of Sierra Leone.

She has been informed that Ms Sylvia Blyden, editor of the independent newspaper Awareness Times, was on 21 May 2009, charged with publishing false information in connection with a 12 May article, alleging an extra marital affair involving President Ernest Bai Koroma. According to reports, prior to her turning herself in to police, she had received death threats and was subjected to harassment by the President’s Spokesman, Mr Sheka Shekito Tarawallie. The Special Rapporteur is concerned about reports that Ms Blyden was on 21 May 2009, granted bail to the amount of 50 million Leones, a sum which appears excessive in comparison to her ‘alleged crime’.

The Special Rapporteur is greatly disturbed about information she has received that Mr Umaru Sitta Turay, editor of the independent bi-weekly newspaper New People, was on 14 May 2009, viciously attacked and slashed with a knife around his throat area, for allegedly working closely with Ms Blyden and for promoting the cause of the opposition, by publishing stories which tarnished the reputation of President Koroma. It has been reported that despite Mr Turay naming his attackers as Mr Alimamy Turay a photographer in the employment of the Office of the President and a supporter of the ruling party, the All Peoples Congress (APC), simply identified as Tunde, no investigation has been undertaken nor has anyone been charged for this attack by the Sierra Leonean Government.

The Special Rapporteur has also received reports that on 13 March 2009, Mr David Jabatti, editor of the tabloid newspaper The Exclusive, was physically assaulted by supporters of the APC.

The Special Rapporteur has therefore expressed her concern in a letter to the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. In her letter, she reiterated to the Government of Sierra Leone, her appeal to all Member States to bring their media laws in conformity with Freedom of Expression standards in general and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa in particular, by repealing laws relating to criminal defamation and amending any existing defamation laws, including the Public Order Act of 1960, in conformity with Principle XII of the Declaration. She also urged the Sierra Leonean Government to ensure that in accordance with Principle XI (2) of the Declaration, this alleged threats, harassment and attacks against independent journalists are investigated and that the perpetrators are punished, to ensure the victims access to effective remedies