Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Sierra Leone journalist forced into hiding
By Kemo Cham
A radio presenter in Koidu Town in Sierra Leone’s eastern Kono District went into hiding last week in fear of being arrested over allegation of incitement.
Sahr Amadu Komba, Station Manager of the Eastern Radio in Koidu, said he was been pursued for a program he hosted which discussed the cause of a flooding that left the small diamond-rich town isolated and cut off from the main highway that linked it to the capital Freetown.
Heavy downpours last week left a new bypass constructed as an alternative to the main route leading into the town completely cut off due to the flooding. The bypass had been constructed after the main route was made inaccessible due to a controversial mining project sanctioned by the government.
People were stranded on both sides of the makeshift road, and according to reports, several houses were affected along the route.
These were the issues been discussed on a breakfast radio talk show in the town hosted by Komba.
Apparently, the authorities were not happy with the nature of the discussion.
According to the journalist, he went into hiding after receiving warning that the Resident Minister East, the most senior ranking government [political] official in the region, had ordered for his arrest. He also alleged, according to reports, receiving threatening calls from police and some unidentified members of the public.
Karamo Kabba, the Resident Minister, referred Politico to an official statement released via his facebook account, when contacted. In the statement he accused the journalist of inciting the public.
The flooding provoked violent protests by angry residents who blamed the mining around the Congo Bride. Kabba is seen as the main supporter of that project. Comments attributed to him on social media following the demonstrations have attracted widespread criticism. He is alleged to have uttered abusive words against the protesters.
But the minister, in his lengthy facebook post, said his comments were taken out of context. He accused his “detractors” of concentrating on just a small portion of an hour’s long interview with the state broadcaster SLBC in which he defended the controversial mining project.
Kabba likened the broadcast by Eastern Radio to inciting radio reports blamed for fanning the 1991 Rwandan genocide.
He said the “alarmist radio host” called on the “‘Kono people to rise and fight for their right’ with the propensity to cause human and property casualties, as well as a ruin of the city.”’
Politico could not reach Komba for comments. But the General Manager of the network of radios to which his station belongs, Ahmed Kallon, confirmed the imminent threat on the journalist.
Kallon told Politico that he’d advised Komba to lay low after receiving a call from the minister complaining about the alleged incitement. He said the minister complained that the journalist was inciting public to come out and demonstrate against the government.
Kallon said the minister also told him that the Local Unit Commander of the Sierra Leone Police in the district had alerted him about the broadcast. He said he was concerned because the minister told him he was traveling to Koidu with two truckloads of police to investigate the matter.
Kallon said “a key stakeholder” in Koidu later called him to confirm that the Minister had indeed ordered the arrest of the journalist.
Kallon said on enquiring, he learned that the journalist had only urged the town’s people to refrain from “conniving with foreigners” who sought to destroy their land and to “wake up from your slumber” and protect it.
“Maybe that one could be misinterpreted as saying come out in your number and demonstrate,” Kallon told Politico on a telephone interview.
“I am not the kind of manager who actually condones unprofessionalism, especially one that incites the people into causing anarchy in the country,” he said.
According to him, the Assistant Inspector General of Police East, Karow Kamara, has assured him that he would investigate without prejudice.
Momoh Gbonko Bangura, Executive Secretary of the Kono-based Civil Society network, condemned the alleged arrest order on the journalist. Bangura was one of several listeners who called in during the program to make verbal contributions. He told Politico that he didn’t hear anything that should have warranted any query of the journalist and that if there was any reason to do so, he felt they should have gone to the IMC.
“The people have the rights to express their views on the mining activities because it is their constitutional rights,” he said on a telephone interview.
© Politico 02/08/16