All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ - Edmund Burke

August 18, 2008

S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol 6 No 7

The Truth Shall Set You Free----------The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth---------Exposing human rights abusers




Human 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.

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