- Sierra Leone's attorney general confirmed yesterday that he will not pursue charges of manslaughter against a member of parliament and two others accused of assaulting journalist Harry Yansaneh in May 2005. At the time, Mr Yansaneh was acting editor of the independent newspaper 'For Di People'. A judicial inquest found that the attack contributed to Mr Yansaneh's death from kidney failure more than two months later.
Prior to the attack, Member of Parliament Fatmata Hassan had sought to evict 'For Di People' and several other independent newspapers from the offices they had rented from her late husband for many years. Ms Hassan wanted access to the building, but she also "was not happy over the content of the paper," Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, head of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) says.
The jury in the inquest found that editor Yansaneh's death was "accelerated by the beating" and called the death a case of involuntary manslaughter. Presiding magistrate Adrien Fisher issued arrest warrants for Ms Hassan and two men suspected of involvement in the attack. Mr Yansaneh had accused Ms Hassan of ordering the assault, which she denied. All three were detained in August 2005 and later released on bail.
But Attorney General Frederick Carew told the New York-based press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday that there is insufficient evidence that the assault hastened Mr Yansaneh's death and that his office will not pursue manslaughter charges against Ms Hassan and others.
The Attorney General said doctors who testified before the inquest stated that "chronic" kidney failure was the cause of death; the inquest drew on testimony of doctors, witnesses to the assault, Mr Yansaneh's colleagues, police, and Ms Hassan.
"I will not pursue charges when the medical report is saying that the cause of death is that he died of chronic kidney failure," Mr Carew said, confirming reports of his decision in the local press. "The verdict of the inquest has to be supported by cogent or relevant evidence."
Victor Willoughby, a physician who examined editor Yansaneh shortly before his death and again during the autopsy, told CPJ that he testified that the assault did not contribute to the journalist's death. Sources at 'For Di People' however have told afrol News that his colleagues had "no doubts" that the editor's sudden death was provoked by the assault ordered by Ms Hassan.
Mr Carew now says he is considering filing charges against Ms Hassan and others for assault, but he declined to give a timeframe for when such charges could be brought.
SLAJ has protested the attorney general's decision not to pursue charges. SLAJ president Ben Kargbo told CPJ that his organisation had called for Ms Hassan to be arrested and charged with manslaughter, along with other suspects. Ben Kargbo said that SLAJ is opposed to the filing of lesser charges. "This matter seeks to undermine the very justice of the state," he said.
Press freedom is generally not respected by Sierra Leone's civilian government. The deadly attack on Mr Yansaneh is only one in a row of attempts to quiet 'For Di People' and other outspoken Sierra Leonean newspapers. Intimidation and expensive legal challenges occur on a daily basis.
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