Wednesday, August 10, 2016

SLAJ condemns ‘disgraceful’ detention of journalist

By Kemo Cham
The Sierra Leone Association of journalists (SLAJ) on Monday reacted angrily to the detention of a journalist on allegation of criminal defamation.
Journalist Sam Lahai, who is based in Kenema, was detained over the week end, reportedly on the orders of Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Major (Rtd) Ismail Sengu Koroma. The minister, who alleged that he’d been defamed in an article written by the journalist, has denied ordering his arrest. He said he only reported the matter to the police.
Lahai was arrested under the notorious criminal libel law. He spent two day in detention. By afternoon on Monday he had been released on bail.
SLAJ president Kevin Lewis in an interview Monday morning described the minister’s action as disgraceful. He said it pointed to the urgent need to expunge the criminal libel law from the laws of the country
“I respect the minister but this Act of his is disgraceful,” Lewis told Radio Democracy.
A statement by SLAJ later in the day said it was unacceptable that even as the justice sector was undergoing salient reforms the CID [Criminal Investigation Department of the Sierra Leone Police] continued to detain accused journalists and critical citizens on weekends without investigation.

Lahai, who is also Assistant Secretary General of SLAJ Eastern Region, in his article accused the minister of interfering the affairs of the Kenema City Council. The journalist also wanted to know how the Minister who is responsible for Internal Affairs (police), was concerned with the running of a district council to the extent that he reportedly summoned some Council officials and threatened them with police arrest if they failed to obey.
“This is blatant display of abuse of public office and of defamation laws as contained in the Public Order Act of 1965,” SLAJ said in its statement.
“We find it incomprehensible that politicians continue to conspire with the police to hide behind defamation laws, denying the public the right to critically hold them to account,” it added.
Mr Koroma told Radio Democracy that he did not order the arrest of the journalist. He said he only reported the matter to the police who on their own effected the arrest. The former US Marine said Lahai was hiding behind politics to attack opponents of the Sierra Leonean Peoples Party (SLPP).
Kenema is considered a stronghold of the main opposition SLPP. Koroma in 2011 contested the election for the presidential ticket of the party ahead of the 2012 polls. He is one of few opposition politicians who joined the governing All Peoples Congress and were given ministerial and other appointments for their support to the APC.
Lahai was released on a bail bond of Le20 million. He was released to the SLAJ President, Kelvin Lewis, Public Affairs Secretary, Princess Gibson, and the legal team of the association, comprising Joseph Egbenda Kapuwa and Musa Mewa.
SLAJ lawyers, according to a separate statement by the association, described the bail bond as “ridiculous” as the maximum fine for the alleged offence on conviction is Le1million.
© Politico 27/07/16

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