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UN Secretary-General Denounces Criminal Libel Law

UN Secretary-General Denounces Criminal Libel Law

Freetown – United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon has denounced the use of the criminal libel law; re-echoing something the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has been saying for ages.

Speaking in Freetown on Tuesday 15 June at the commissioning of Sierra Leone’s independent public service broadcaster, SLBC, Mr Ban said “Journalists must be free to practise [their profession] without fear of criminal charges” being brought against them. He also urged journalists to practice their trade according to its professional dictates by being objective and impartial.

SLAJ President, Umaru Fofana, has reacted favourably to the statement by the UN boss. “We hope with such a statement coming from the world’s top civil servant proponents of the obnoxious Criminal and Seditious Libel Law in Sierra Leone will accept the reality that such a law defies civility and belongs to the past”, Fofana says.

He says the retention of criminal libel law in Sierra Leone’s statute books “makes mockery of our democracy and deserves to be expunged”; and encourages aggrieved members of the public to use the means provided by the Independent Media Commission for redress from the media.

With the aim to have libel de-criminalised, in February 2008 SLAJ went to the Supreme Court seeking an interpretation of the country’s constitution and the 1965 Public Order Act as it relates to criminal libel. After an unconstitutional delay in giving a judgement, the court eventually ruled for the retention of the law.

Recently, however, President Ernest Bai Koroma assured journalists that he would ensure a review of the law before the next presidential election in 2012. So far, no concrete steps have been taken to make this happen.

Ismael Koroma, SLAJ

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