22 October 2013

Sierra Leone: Attack On Press Freedom! APC Sues Jonathan Leigh, Others - and Police Invite Two More Editors

Journalists who had gone to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigations Department to solidarise with their incarcerated colleagues, Jonathan Leigh and Bai Bai Sesay, Managing Editor and Editor respectively of the Independent Observer newspaper, were yesterday stunned to see lawyers of the Sanda Chambers of Eddie Turay & Associates presenting a civil writ of summons to the journalists and their newspaper, on behalf of the ruling All People's Congress (APC) and the party's Secretary General, Osman Yansaneh.

"We command you that within 14 days after service of the Writ on you, inclusive of the day of such service, you do cause an appearance to be entered for you in the High Court of Sierra Leone in an Action at the suit of ALL PEOPLE'S CONGRESS AND OSMAN YANSANEH of Freetown. And take notice that in default of your so doing, the Plaintiffs may proceed therein and judgment may be given in your absence," the writ of summons, witnessed by the Chief Justice, Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh, and dated 21 October, 2013, reads.

The two journalists were picked up last Friday, October 18, following an article in the Independent Observer newspaper's Thursday October 17 edition titled: "Who is molesting who: the President or the VP?"

Efforts by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and other senior media colleagues to have them released on bail have since proved futile.

It could be recalled that the Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Alpha Kanu yesterday said in a radio interview that aside the action currently being taken by the police against the two journalists, the APC as a party will bring up a civil action against both Mr. Leigh and Mr. Sesay, on behalf of President Ernest Bai Koroma, whom he said is "chairman and leader of the APC party".

Less than five hours after the minister's threat, the writ of summons was slammed on the journalists.

The plaintiffs, among others, claim "punitive and aggravated damages" for the "libel contained in the Independent Observer newspaper... " They also asked for an injunction restraining the defendants or their agents from "further publishing the said libel against or touching and concerning the plaintiffs whether jointly or severally."

Director of CID, Chief Supt. Ibrahim Koroma aka 'Size Man', said the Independent Observer editors are being investigated under Section 33 of Public Order Act of 1965 in relation to an article they published about the President which is deemed as "libellous".

"We are dealing with the criminal aspect of the offence, which is separate from whatever action other people might bring up against them," Supt. Koroma told members of the Guild of Editors Sierra Leone (GoE-SL) who went to enquire about the status of the matter, and whether the suspects could be released on bail. "We are almost concluding our investigations, after which the matter will be charged to court. At the moment, he cannot be put on bail because I'm yet to set the bail conditions."

President Ernest Bai Koroma has - through a letter by his lawyer, Ajibola Manley-Spaine, to the Independent Observer newspaper - stated that his interest is having the newspaper "correct" the story written against him and make an "unqualified apology" for the publication, which the lawyer considers "libellous". Also, the media regulatory body, Independent Media Commission (IMC), had invited the two journalists for questioning in relation to the alleged offending article; the meeting had been slated for today, October 22.

It is unlikely the hearing will go as planned since the journalists are currently being detained at the CID.

Meanwhile, as we went to press, information reached Concord Times that editors of the Global Times and Salone Times newspapers were late yesterday invited for questioning by the police, while the Premier News newspaper, whose printer allegedly printed the alleged libellous Independent Observer article, has also been invited for questioning by the police.

However, it is not immediately known why the editors of the Global Times and Salone Times were being invited for by the police.

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