SDI named “Best CSO of the Year” in Sierra Leone”
Governments are using the COVID-19 crisis as a pretext to stifle freedom of expression, according to the recent “Call to Defend Democracy”, an Open Letter initiated by the Stockholm-based International IDEA and the US-based National Endowment for Democracy, and signed by some 73 pro-democracy institutions, 13 Nobel Laureates and 62 former heads of state and government.
But democracy advocates are celebrating a rare victory by applauding the passage of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act 2020 that repealed notorious Sierra Leone’s 1965 Public Order Act (POA).
The POA criminalized libel and sedition so its repeal is a victory for Sierra Leone’s media which had fought for decades alongside activists in and outside the country to get rid of the notorious restraint on press freedom and freedom of expression.
“This really is a huge achievement for democracy and freedom of the press in Sierra Leone after so many years of hard work,” said Dave Peterson, Africa Program Director at the National Endowment for Democracy.
The POA’s repeal is also a major achievement for civil society groups such as the Society for Democratic Initiatives (above), a partner of the Endowment and the World Movement for Democracy, which played a leading role in pressing for reform.
During the parliament’s deliberations, one observer noted, “speakers recognized the role of Society for Democratic Initiatives over the past two decades and praised SDI executive director, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai (below), for his tenacity and perseverance.”
“This is a huge milestone for freedom of expression and democracy,” said the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Almost all veterans of Sierra Leone’s media have been victims of the infamous law, IFEX adds:
- On September 22, 2017, the then chief editor of The New Age newspaper, Ibrahim Samura, now deceased, was charged with four counts of sedition and criminal libel. Donald Theo Harding and Thomas Dixon – both of Salone Times newspaper – were also charged with ten counts of sedition and criminal libel.
On October 18, 2013, the Managing Editor of the Independent Observer, Jonathan Leigh and Chief Editor, Bai Bai Sesay, were arrested and detained 19 days without trial after publishing a satirical article about President Ernest Koroma. David Tam-Baryoh and Paul Kamara are also among many other veterans, who have been victims of the infamous sedition law.
- As recently as May 1, 2020, the authorities arrested Silvia Olayinka Blyden, publisher of the Awareness Times newspaper, and charged her with violating sections 27, 32, and 33 of the Public Order Act in connection with her critical Facebook posts. Accused of defaming the government, she spent a total of 50 days in detention, before being granted bail.