Reporters Without Borders deplores the transport and aviation
minister’s use of a repressive law – which his government promised to
amend – to prosecute Jonathan Leigh, the editor of the Freetown-based
weekly The Independent Observer.
“We condemn this use of an archaic law by a member of a
government that undertook not to use it any more,” the press freedom
organisation said. “There are fair and appropriate methods for
rendering justice in cases of libel and they clearly do not include a
criminal prosecution resulting in imprisonment. The authorities need to
understand that the democratic rules require that regulatory mechanisms
and the right of response are used first in conflicts with the press.”
case is about a story in The Independent Observer claiming that Kemoh
Sesay had construction started on two houses less than two months after
taking office as transport and aviation minister in the new government.
Vowing to “clear my name or resign,” Sesay brought a libel suit against
Leigh under the 1965 Public Order Act.
When Leigh failed to
appear before a Freetown court on 11 January in response to a summons,
two judges issued a warrant authorising the police to arrest and hold
him until the start of the trial. In the event, the hearing was
postponed until tomorrow and Leigh was not arrested. But in an
interview for privately-owned Democracy 98.1 FM, Sesay said he hoped
that Leigh would receive a prison sentence if convicted.
rights groups and the Sierra Leone Journalists Association (SLAJ) have
been campaigning for years for the repeal of the Public Order Act,
which provides for long jail terms for defamation. After the opposition
won last September’s presidential election, the new information
minister, former SLAJ president Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, pledged to repeal
or amend it.