A Leading Human Rights Group, Rightsway International, Has Made an Unprecedented Appeal to President Ernest Bai Koroma for the Immediate Release of the Two Detained Journalists and Stop the Crackdown On Press Freedom.
RightsWay noted that Jonathan Leigh and Bai Bai Sesay, both editors of the Independent Observer newspaper, were arrested on October 18 and have been charged with criminal defamation with 26 counts, including "conspiracy to commit acts with seditious intent" for publishing an article critical of President Koroma.
"RightsWay is disappointed that these journalists are being unlawfully detained for six days and have been denied bail, pending the resumption of their trial on 29 October. It is clear that Sierra Leone is becoming an extremely dangerous environment for journalists and activists to work in," the human rights group said in a statement.
RightsWay called on the Attorney-Generalto drop all charges against these journalists. The government, it called, must cease the targeting of journalists and civil society groups, and to respect the voice of the people.
Mr Messeh Leone, International Legal Consultant for RightsWay,said:"The decision to unlawfully detain these journalists sends out a chilling message of censorship and dictatorship. It is essential that the freedom of the press is upheld in a genuine democracy. Government cannot do whatever it likes without the rule of law. Press freedom and individual liberty cannot be sacrificed for political gains."
RightsWay further urged the government to hold an independent inquiry into the unlawful detention of these journalists and related issues, and that the Independent Media Commission (IMC) and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) should ask for explanations from the government.
"It is essential for the IMC, HRC, media and civil society groups to vigorously condemn attacks against journalists and to act with due diligence and swiftness to establish an effective regulatory framework on media law and ethics, ensuring that the rights of others are not violated,"the group maintained
"RightsWay believes that steps to strengthen the independent and impartial review of cases related to freedom of expression by the judiciary would be key in this respect, and calls for the establishment of an independent inquiry to look into to the culture, practices and ethics of the press and, in particular, the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians.
"RightsWay calls for the immediate review of the Public Order Act of 1965, which the government is abusing and to stop the violation of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by national and international law. Sierra Leone must design a constitution that protects fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression and the right for everyone to demonstrate peacefully, as key pillars to promote peace and prevent the recurrence of conflict in the county.
"The urgent need for the implementation of the Access to Information Act cannot be overemphasised. This will allow journalists, activists, lawyers, accountants, teachers, researchers, and others to freely access public information."