See also:
» 19.03.2010 - Sierra Leone battles corruption
» 22.02.2010 - UN names Sierra Leone’s tribunal prosecutor
» 15.02.2010 - UN partners media to fight sexual violence in S/Leone
» 11.01.2010 - Sierra Leone government bans logging
» 23.11.2009 - S/Leone’s plan to enlist youth into police scorned
» 02.11.2009 - Sierra Leone judge takes over Taylor case
» 26.10.2009 - Tribunal up-holds sentence for 3 former rebels
» 15.09.2009 - Sierra Leone's peace needs time, UN official

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Sierra Leone
Human rights | Society | Media

Sierra Leone editor finally freed

afrol News, 30 November - Editor Paul Kamara of Sierra Leone's independent daily 'For Di People' has finally been freed after 14 months in prison, serving a defamation sentence. While Mr Kamara was happy to leave prison as a free man, he mourned the death of his predecessor Harry Yansaneh, who was killed following the orders of a Member of Parliament.

Mr Kamara was released yesterday by the Freetown appeal court, which overturned his 5 October 2004 conviction by judge Bankole Rachid, who had sentenced him to two 24-month sentences for "seditious defamation." He left the court smiling, accompanied by his wife and daughter, the staff of his newspaper, other journalists and his lawyer.

The founder, editor and publisher of 'For Di People' last year was convicted under a draconian 1965 law known as the Public Order Act as a result of an action brought by Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah over an article published in his newspaper on 3 October 2003 headlined, "Speaker of Parliament challenge! Kabbah is a true convict!"

The article said a commission of enquiry had found President Kabbah guilty of fraud in 1968 when he was permanent secretary in the Ministry of Trade, and argued that it was unconstitutional of the parliamentary spokesman to claim that Mr Kabbah now had immunity as President.

When Mr Kamara was sent to jail 14 months ago, troubles continued for 'For Di People', Sierra Leone's most outspoken daily newspaper. Mr Yansaneh was installed as the daily's acting chief editor. After repeatedly criticising the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), the newspaper and its acting editor came under attack from SLPP Member of Parliament Fatmata Hassan, whose family owns the offices rented by 'For Di People'.

After an attempt to evict the newspapers from its offices and vandal attacks on the newspaper, Mr Yansaneh was assaulted on 10 May this year. Before he died of the injuries in June, he attributed the attack to Ms Hassan's two sons and her daughter. Ms Hassan and her family were first arrested for the "involuntary manslaughter" of Mr Yansaneh, but were later released and further inquiries were halted.

Since the politically murder of Mr Yansaneh, Moses Kargbo has acted as the editor of 'For Di People'. Under Mr Kargbo's leadership, the daily newspaper has continued its critical reporting despite government threats. Mr Kamara is now expected to resume his positions as chief editor and publisher of the newspaper.

The release of the Sierra Leonean editor was today welcomed by international press freedom groups. Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) in a statement today said that the Freetown government now needed to keep its promises of democracy and "put an end to its repression of the news media."

"After more than a year of waiting and suffering, Paul Kamara is finally being reunited with his family and his newspaper," the group said. "We hope this day will mark the end of a dark era for Sierra Leone's press." RSF added that "any further serious press freedom violations such as the imprisonment of one of the country's most respected journalists would cause irreversible harm to Sierra Leone."

The situation of the free press in Sierra Leone is one of the worst in the West African region, comparable only to The Gambia and Togo, a recent survey by afrol News and the Editors' Forum of West Africa found. In addition to a very poor physical infrastructure for media houses, the Sierra Leonean government is among the region's most hostile towards independent media.

Mr Kargbo told afrol News that the Freetown government either ignores the independent press or attacks it. Even quoting a government minister, who is recorded on tape, may pose great risks if the minister later regrets his comments. Newspapers are bound lose a defamation case even under these conditions, Mr Kargbo said.

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