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2005: Attacks on the Press in Sierra Leone

 - Wednesday 9 November 2005.

JANUARY 14, 2005 Posted: January 27, 2005

Philip Neville, The Standard Times Unissa Bangura, The Standard Times The Standard Times HARASSED

Detectives from the government’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) raided the offices of the privately owned Standard Times in the capital, Freetown, and closed the paper for a day, according to the newspaper’s staff. The detectives searched staff members and said they were looking for stolen bank documents they believed had then been purchased by Unisa Bangura, a reporter at the paper who has covered corruption.

The documents were not found. However, the ACC officers detained Bangura and Editor Philip Neville and searched their homes, The Standard Times reported. Neville was released after several hours, but Bangura was detained overnight before being released without charge. The ACC gave no explanation for the detention, according to the newspaper, which said the ACC was seeking to muzzle the independent press.

FEBRUARY 11, 2005 Posted: February 16, 2005

Olu Gordon, The Peep IMPRISONED

Gordon, editor of the semiweekly satirical newspaper The Peep, was summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), where he was held in connection with an article that appeared in The Peep that day, according to local journalists.

The article questioned why Marine Minister Ibrahim Okere Adams, indicted by an anticorruption commission, had not been fired, whereas two other indicted ministers had been dismissed promptly. The report said that Okere was seen as President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s "most reliable northern ally" in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled for 2007.

The article came in response to a press release from the presidential office defending the decision to retain Okere. "The release is seen as a personal endorsement by Kabbah of the most corrupt ministers of his Cabinet," wrote The Peep.

Gordon told CPJ he was held for three days and charged with seditious libel, a criminal offense. However, just before he was due to appear in court, he was taken to the attorney general’s office and informed that charges were being dropped.

Gordon was released on the morning of February 14.

MAY 24, 2005 Updated on June 13, 2005

Sydney Pratt, The Trumpet Dennis Jones, The Trumpet LEGAL ACTION, IMPRISONED

Criminal charges were brought against managing editor Pratt and reporter Jones, of the private weekly The Trumpet. The journalists were arrested and held at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in the capital, Freetown, where the paper is based.

Both were charged with "seditious libel" under Sierra Leone’s draconian 1965 Public Order Act, which local journalists have long struggled to have removed from the books.

According to the journalists, who spoke to CPJ from detention, the charge stems from an article published in the May 24 edition of The Trumpet headlined "Kabbah Mad over Carew Bribe Scandal." The article, citing an unnamed source, said President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was angered by earlier reports alleging that Attorney General and Justice Minister Frederick Carew had accepted bribes.

On May 27, both journalists appeared before a judge and were released on bail of Le 20,000 (about US $8.50). On June 7, both journalists were acquitted.

JULY 28, 2005 Posted August 31, 2005

Harry Yansaneh, For Di People KILLED - UNCONFIRMED

An attack on newspaper editor Harry Yansaneh contributed to his death from kidney failure two months later, a judicial inquest found on August 26. A magistrate ordered the arrest of Member of Parliament Fatmata Hassan, three of her children, and two other men for suspected manslaughter after the weeklong inquest.

Yansaneh, acting editor of the daily For Di People, was assaulted on May 10. He died on July 28 of kidney failure, according to an autopsy. Yansaneh alleged that Hassan had ordered the attack, according to local sources and press freedom organizations. She denied this.

Hassan, an MP for the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), Olu Campbell, and Reginald Bull were detained on August 26. All three suspects were released on bail on August 30, pending a separate trial. Police said they would seek the extradition of Hassan’s two sons and a daughter from the United Kingdom.

"Though we cannot say that he was killed by the Komehs (Hassan’s children) and Reginald Bull, the death of Harry Yansaneh was involuntary manslaughter," the inquest ruled. Hassan’s two sons and daughter, and Bull attacked Yansaneh, it said. The extent of his injuries was not clear at the time. He was not hospitalized.

"The death was accelerated by the beating which Yansaneh suffered," the inquest added. Before the attack Hassan sought to evict For Di People and five other independent newspapers from the offices they had rented from her late husband for many years. For Di People’s offices were also vandalized.

Local journalists said the attack might have been motivated by the newspaper’s criticism of the SLPP and the government. Yansaneh had taken over as senior editor following the imprisonment of For Di People’s editor and publisher, Paul Kamara, in October 2004. Kamara was convicted of "seditious libel" and sentenced to two years in jail for articles that criticized President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

The government ordered the inquest following strong local and international pressure. The Sierra Leone Journalists Association said it was satisfied with the proceedings and with the outcome.

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists, USA.