Sierra Leone: Information Minister Calls for Sustained Publicity On Criminal Libel Repeal

Minister of Information and Communications has called on journalists from both the print and electronic media to provide sustained publicity around the repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel provisions in the 1965 Public Order Act.

The journalism fraternity in Sierra Leone has been at the forefront together with other civil society and international organisations pushing for the repeal of a draconian law, which has been use for decades by politicians to silence journalists from asking critical governance and accountability questions.

The amended document was tabled and read for the first time in parliament by the Information Minister in December 2019 but there were reservations from some Members of Parliament, including the Speaker; Dr. Abass Bundu with regards safeguards after the repeal.

"We have very grave concern that the media which is the key beneficiary of the repeal process do not seem to treat it as seriously as we have done as a government. I have seen other stories on the front pages of newspapers but nothing on the repeal which journalists have fought for so hard all these years," Mohamed Rahman Swarray said.

During an emergency general meeting of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists on Friday January 24, 2020, Mr. Swarray stated that the repeal is in its last stage and therefore it behooves journalists, especially those in the print media to stand up and be counted by publishing articles that explain the rationale behind the repeal and why it should be now.

"We should all be in this together. We are at the last huddle and the time to repeal it is now because tomorrow might be too late. We have an opportunity to pay tribute to those men and women in the media who fought so relentlessly during their lifetime but are not alive today to see the repeal process," he noted.

Deputy Information Minister, Mamadi Gobeh Kamara, said they have had a lot of consultations and engagements with stakeholders and development partners who are very keen to ensure a repeal of the act.

She urged journalists to use their different platforms to push the message of repeal so that those who are standing as a barrier to the success will have a rethink.

"Now is the time more than ever before because there are reservations about the repeal among certain people. We need to come together stronger than before to push the message that it should be now not later," she said.

Earlier, SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said through engagements with key stakeholders, including civil society organizations and donor partners like Irish Aid and the British High Commission, an advocacy plan have been developed which should be rolled out before parliament resumes sittings later this month.

"We need the support and cooperation of our constituency because there have been concerns that we are not doing much in terms of raising awareness and promoting things around the repeal," he said.

He urged journalists to report more actively in promoting awareness around the law so that lawmakers and the general public would understand what the media seeks to achieve.

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