THE REPORT BY RIGHTS GROUP AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
rights violations since the military coup on 25 May 1997
Shortly after the military coup on 25 May 1997, the AFRC expressed its intention
to ensure that press freedom was unrestricted. It criticized legislation passed
earlier in May 1997 which required the registration of newspapers and newspaper
editors to have academic qualifications and lengthy previous professional
experience. However, this commitment was short-lived.
As with other critics of the military coup and the AFRC, journalists soon became
the targets for threats, ill-treatment, arrest and detention. On 3 July 1997 the
Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) issued a statement saying that it
was committed to the restoration of democratic and constitutional rule and the
speedy restoration of the elected government of Sierra Leone. The same month
SLAJ condemned the AFRC for its unprecedented harassment and intimidation of
journalists. In September 1997 the AFRC announced that newspapers were required
to obtain permission before publishing. It also ordered all newspapers to
register officially within six days or cease publication, citing the Newspapers
Act of 1980. It subsequently allowed those newspapers which had legally
registered before 25 May 1997 to continue to publish until the end of the year.
During the week of 9 June 1997, some two weeks after the military coup,
Ojukutu Macaulay, editor of The Quill newspaper and also the host of
a live radio broadcast, "Good morning, Freetown", was reported to have gone into
hiding after being confronted by a group of soldiers. According to reports, a
few hours earlier he had had a conversation with another journalist during which
he apparently stated that he did not and would not support the military coup. As
he returned home, a group of soldiers confronted him and threatened to kill him
if he continued to denounce the military coup. Also in early June 1997
journalists working for For di People newspaper were threatened following
articles critical of the AFRC. A correspondent for the British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC), Sylvester Rogers, based in Makeni, Northern
Province, was also reported to have gone into hiding in June 1997 after soldiers
sought to locate him after he filed reports critical of the AFRC. Several months
later, in early October 1997, he was reported to have been arrested and severely
beaten and his passport seized.
In the weeks which followed, an increasing number of journalists were arrested
and detained, apparently only because of undertaking their professional
activities and legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Four newspapers critical of the AFRC closed down after receiving threats.
On 8 July 1997 four members of staff of The Democrat newspaper and three
other people who were at The Democrat's premises were arrested by
soldiers searching for the clandestine radio transmitter broadcasting on behalf
of the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. They were taken to Cockerill
military headquarters. Although four were released after four days, Jeff
Bowley Williams, Salomon Conteh and Fatmata Kamara were
subsequently transferred to Pademba Road prison and held without charge until 19
July 1997. Other journalists reported to have been arrested and detained briefly
without charge in July 1997 because of their reporting of events included
Hilton Fyle, an independent radio broadcaster, Bundu Hayes, editor of
The Point newspaper, and Martins I. Martins, a journalist working
for Business News newspaper.
Four members of staff of the newspaper Unity Now were arrested on 26 July
1997 by soldiers following an article critical of the AFRC. According to
reports, Dominic Lamine, deputy editor, Sahr Mbayoh, news editor,
and two women employees were arrested on 26 July 1997. They were held at
Cockerill military headquarters where they were denied all visits. The two women
and Sahr Mbayoh were released on 30 July 1997 and Dominic Lamine three days
later. The newspaper's editor, Frank Kposowa, also president of SLAJ,
went into hiding for a brief period.
Two days later, on 28 July 1997, Suliman Janger, production manager of
the newspaper The New Tablet, was reported to have been arrested and held
briefly, again following an article critical of the AFRC. Five newspaper vendors
selling The New Tablet were also reported to have been arrested on 28
July 1997; two were held in Pademba Road prison.
Two journalists and their driver who were on their way to report a demonstration
by students protesting against the AFRC on 18 August 1997 were arrested and
taken to Cockerill military headquarters. Kelvin Lewis, described as a
correspondent for both Radio France Internationale and Voice of America,
and Ojukutu Macaulay, previously arrested in June 1997, were reported to
have been severely beaten with the blunt ends of machetes and butts of guns by
soldiers, who also were reported to have threatened to kill them. Ojukutu
Macaulay sustained injuries to his head which required stitches. Both
journalists and their driver were released the following day.
On 10 October a freelance journalist, Abdul Salam Timbo, was reported to
have been arrested on accusations of involvement in subversive activities.
David Tam Baryoh, editor of Punch newspaper, was arrested the same
day and held at CID headquarters for 72 hours. He was accused of providing
information to President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and Sierra Leone's ambassadors to
the UN and the United States. The following day, John Foray, acting
editor of The Democrat newspaper, and Abdul Kposowa, a freelance
journalist, were arrested by soldiers and taken to Pademba Road prison. They
were beaten at the time of their arrest.