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Government’s position on detained Journalists

Government’s position on detained Journalists

The Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Alpha Bakarr Kanu (in photo), has described the article which led to the arrest of the two Journalists from the Independent Observer Newspaper including the Managing Editor, Mr. Jonathan Leigh and the Editor, Mr. Bai Bai Sesay, as man made and not natural. He therefore urged listeners to speak the truth and shame the enemy.

The Minister made this assertion when addressing Journalists during the usual Government press briefing in the conference hall of the Ministry of Information and Communications at Youyi Building in Freetown

He commended Mr. Sorie Fofanah who he said condemned the article and he confirmed that there is always cordiality between the Government and the media.

He explained President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma has been protecting the rights of Journalists, observing that since he came to power in 2007, no Journalist had ever appeared before any Court or been castigated by Government officials. He urged Journalists to see themselves as partners in development and not as tools to cause destruction in the land.

The Minister observed that the arrest of the two Journalists was not ordered by President Koroma or his Government, but that it was made by the Police for demeaning the name of the President.

The soft spoken Minister maintained that what was written in that paper has the tendency to insight people to a state of confusion. He intimated that the comparison of President Koroma to a rat is very disrespectful and degrading.

He said a rat is always chased by people to be killed, a rat is a thief and a rat is destructive. He maintained that the article was written only to provoke President Koroma whom he described as a kind hearted gentleman.

He noted that Journalists only look at the interest of their colleagues and not the interest of the President. He pointed out that human right laws have limitations which everybody is expected to adhere to but he was quick to say that Journalists have ignored human rights to reprimand the First gentleman of the State.

By Abdulai Mento Kamara

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  • The APC government must immediately release journalists, Jonathan Leigh and Bai Bai Sesay, from prison, stop parading them as criminals and drop all charges against them. They must also stop the constant hounding and the intimidation of other journalists in the country. For far too long, journalists have become the targets of government as a way to smokescreen whatever political mess, they in the government, are involved in.
    That the arrest of Leigh and Sesay is as a result of an article in the Independent Observer newspaper that refers to the President as a rat and must be treated as such is a pretext by some in the government to muzzle the press.
    Even though the President may have been offended by the article, he did not order the arrest of the two pressmen.
    A new APC convert; a vice-president wanna-be, who thinks s/he is APC-holier than Siaka Stevens is behind their arrest and continued detention.
    In the days leading to their arrest, the vice president wanna-be accused some journalists of “fighting for Vice President Sam Sumana,” – who appears to be a feud with President Koroma – just because the media questioned or brought to the attention of the public the stalemate within the APC government.
    It was not long ago that plans to arrest journalists and imprison them were floated around. What is going on now with journalists seems exactly the beginning of that plan.
    Since the days of Siaka Stevens, journalists had been called names, harassed, jailed or chased out of the country simply for performing their duties. Some lost their lives reporting.
    When in the opposition, politicians find pleasure in the exercising of a free press and would regard journalists as heroes, particularly when the press exposes government abuses. Once the opposition party takes over the reins of government they make journalists their targets for bullying and incarcerating.
    No one can say for certain, or show clear proof that either of these two, Leigh and Sesay, has any ties with any political group in the country. Yet, they and others are being classed as part of an opposition media network.
    When Jonathan Leigh, Bai Bai Sesay, Sorie Sudan Sesay and the rest of the Independent Observer team fearlessly exposed ECOMOG abuses in the country in 1999, they were called rebel collaborators.
    In an attempt to silent the newspaper, ECOMOG ‘planted’ arms and ammunition in their Forth Street premises. ECOMOG soldiers then raided their offices, claiming they had found ‘proofs,’ linking them to RUF activities.
    The innocent journalists and their administrative staff were arrested, beaten, paraded and forced to sit on the ground of the street. APC members saw them then as independent journalists who should be let alone.
    The criminal AFRC/ RUF junta in 1997/98 labeled the newspaper men and women, enemies of the state, just because the Independent Observer was exposing their brutality and calling for a return to democratic rule. Jonathan Leigh at one point was grabbed, following information about his where about by an AFRC/RUF pressman. He was locked up at some unknown military prison while the rest had to go underground.
    No one goes after government functionaries or calls for their arrest when they blackmail journalists or call them names. No one calls for their arrest them when they fail to perform.
    Too many of the courageous journalists in Sierra Leone have experienced some forms of government harassment and jailing. To many of them carry the scares – both physical and emotional – of government brutality. What open bullying!
    The government would do better if it focuses on purging itself of the worm ( vice-president wanna-be) that is eating deep into its flesh as well as clear its sight from the gigantic log (vice-president wanna-be), rather than focusing on what it thinks are specks in the eyes of journalists. Please let Jonathan Leigh and Bai Bai Sesay go free.

    26th October 2013

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