- Heavily armed Freetown police this morning confiscated all equipment belonging to the independent 'For Di People' newspaper, in connection with a hefty damages award in a civil libel case. Editor Paul Kamara and his newspaper on several occasions have been in the focus of Sierra Leonean authorities.
Editor Kamara, who is also facing seditious libel charges in another case, was appearing in court at the time of the police raid against 'For Di People'. He says police had taken computers, printers, desks, telephones, and even his car.
Mr Kamara served a six-month prison sentence after being convicted of criminal libel in November 2002 for defaming a local judge. On 9 October this year, a High Court ordered him to pay Le 61 million (US$ 24,900) in damages and costs following a civil suit in the same case.
He was ordered to pay within 24 hours but was unable to do so. Mr Kamara said he was in detention at the time of the civil case ruling and that he had not been represented in court. He said he had never received any notice related to payment of the damages.
Mr Kamara was detained several times following a 3 October article in 'For Di People', which stated that Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejjan Kabbah was a convict and constitutionally unfit to hold office.
On 10 October, the editor and three employees at the John Love Printing Press, which prints 'For Di People', were imprisoned and charged with seditious libel in connection with that article. They were released on a Le 50 million bail (US$ 20,000) on 11 November. The case has been adjourned to 1 December.
The continuous actions against Mr Kamara and 'For Di People' has caused protest in Sierra Leone and outside as the war-ridden country is receiving significant international funds to return to stability and democracy.
Also international free press organisations are protesting. "It is outrageous that excessive fines are being used to close a newspaper," says Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement today.
- We call on Sierra Leonean authorities to allow 'For Di People' to resume operations immediately, adds Ms Cooper. CPJ and other media watchdogs have noted an increasingly hostile environment for the independent press in Sierra Leone during this year, which could question the democratic intentions of the Kabbah government.
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