The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) have condemned the arrest and detention of a journalist in Sierra Leone.
According to IFJ affiliate, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), journalist Theophilus Gbenda was arrested and charged with seditious libel last Tuesday, 11 February. The SLAJ said Theophilus had produced a radio programme where a guest made comments over a land case, which reportedly angered the country’s vice president, Sam Sumana.
As a result, SLAJ says the head of the Independent Media Commission’s (IMC) complaints commission intervened and invited Theophilus to appear before the committee on the Tuesday afternoon.
However, on the same day the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Sierra Leone Police summoned the journalist to report to it to answer charges of seditious libel. A statement was obtained from him and he was subsequently detained without bail.
The SLAJ says the allegations against Theophilus were made in a report given to the CID by an aide to the Vice President, who allegedly claimed he was also libeled in the radio programme.
“This journalist must be released immediately and unconditionally”, said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. “The arbitrary charges against him are unfounded and cannot be allowed to stand.”
FAJ President, Mohamed Garba said: “We are frustrated that despite the signing of a Freedom of Information Bill in Sierra Leone, there are still some aggressive government actions against the country's media. These attempts to intimidate the media must stop.”
SLAJ President, Kelvin Lewis, has stated that such interpretations of the law by police in Sierra Leone raise serious questions about the administration of the rule of law and the country’s democratic credentials.
“The SLAJ is conscious of the fact that the Vice President is head of the police council,” said Lewis. “As a result, we are concerned that this case will become another of the numerous cases against journalists attributed to “orders from above.”
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The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 134 countries
FAJ represents more than 50.000 journalists in 40 countries in Africa