By Feima Sesay
The Court of Appeal has on Wednesday 4th May 2022 rejected an application made by lawyers representing former President Ernest Bai Koroma for a stay of proceedings in the on-going Commission of Inquiry (COI) appeals and refer the question of presidential immunity to the Supreme Court for constitutional interpretation.
The application was made by lead counsel for the appellant Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara for the interpretation of Section 48 (4) of the Constitution in relation to the question of whether a former President has IMMUNITY from Civil and Criminal proceedings.
In the quorum, Hon. Justices Ivan Sesay (Presiding Judge), Momoh-Jah Stevens and Adrian Fisher ruled that the immunity provided by Section 48 (4) of the Constitution is only applicable to a President while he holds or performs the Office of President.
Reading pages of his preliminaries, Justice Adrian Fisher Delved in the submissions and arguments on both sides.
He also cited similar cases which are of the same status including that of Mohamed Alie and former president Ahmed Tejan Kabba.
Reading the second part of the ruling, Justice Alhaji Momoh Jah Steven gave reasons as to why the appeal court cannot make a decision on the matter.
He said there are matters which they are entitle to make decisions on and there are others which they don’t have power to decide.
He dismissed the application made by the appellant lead counsel Joesph Fitzgerald Kamara for a stay of proceedings.
In his response, the lead appellant counsel, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara appreciated the Judges and assured them that they are proud to pursue their case.
Press Freedom Walk 2022…
SLAJ members to take the streets on Saturday
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), with support from the European Union Sierra Leone, will mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day with a PRESS FREEDOM WALK (WPD) 2022 under the theme: ‘Protect, Promote & Expand the Space’ to reflect on the historic repeal of the criminal libel law.
Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in 2020, reached a milestone which set a positive dynamic and an enabling framework for the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, including press freedom, and the civic space in Sierra Leone.
The freedom walk platform will further be an opportunity to encourage the Government of Sierra Leone, all Political parties, the Parliament of Sierra Leone, and the Security Sector (especially the Sierra Leone Police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces) to strengthen their commitment to respecting and protecting free speech and free media in the country. Since 3rd May 2022 WPD falls on a Tuesday, the freedom walk will take place on Saturday, 7th May 2022 starting at 10am prompt. The symbolic walk will start from SLAJ Headquarters (56 Campbell Street, Freetown) to the Taylor Cummings Garden by the Cotton Tree in celebration of the repeal of the Criminal and Seditious law. The route for the walk is from Campbell Street to Pademba Road and convergence at the Cotton Tree. SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, said: “Every World Press Freedom day SLAJ has been using the occasion to call for the repeal of the criminal and seditious libel law by demanding the Government of Sierra Leone to respect the right to freedom of expression of every citizen (not just journalists), free media, and international conventions related to same. Now that we have secured the repeal, we do not only need to celebrate this historic victory but to remind ourselves that challenges of free speech and free media are everyday issues we must keep fighting for. We must work together with other partners to not only protect the freedom we have achieved but to promote and expand on it.” Similarly, the EU Ambassador in Sierra Leone, H.E Manuel Mueller, said: “Around the world, the European Union is strongly committed to protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and of course freedom of expression including press freedom, one of the hallmarks of a democracy. Vibrant media are vital to a healthy democracy, and a driver of good governance, development, human rights and peace. The EU welcomes the historical decision to repeal the criminal libel law in Sierra Leone in 2020, a very positive step to protect and uphold freedom of expression and opinion, including press freedom. We acknowledge the instrumental role played in this process by the Government, SLAJ and other CSOs, the Parliament and political parties. We encourage all stakeholders to continue to respect, protect and uphold this vital space”. At the Taylor Cummings Garden, there will be short statements from stakeholders from the Government of Sierra Leone, the Parliament of Sierra Leone, the Judiciary of Sierra Leone, the four political parties in Parliament, the Security Sector (SLP and RSLAF), Civil Society Organisations, media and the diplomatic community. This activity will hold simultaneously on a small scale in the regional headquarter towns of Makeni (North), Bo (South) and Kenema (East).
Amb. of Morocco Pays Courtesy Call on Pres. Bio
Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to Guinea, accredited to Sierra Leone, has paid a courtesy call on His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio and commended his government on various developments that are taking place in the country.
Ambassador Isam Taib thanked the President for making time to see him, adding that his visit was to strengthen the bilateral relationship that he said had grown, especially in the last three years of Freetown’s relationship with Rabat.
“I am here to further improve and consolidate the bilateral relations we have. Thank you very much, Your Excellency,” Ambassador Isam noted.
In a brief statement, His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio welcomed the Moroccan Ambassador to Sierra Leone, saying that the two countries were strong and reliable partners. He further noted that they would continue to strengthen the partnership in many areas.
“Thank you for coming. It is good to have you here,” he concluded.
FREEDOM WALK AND FREE MEDIA: JOURNALISTS CAN NOW CELEBRATE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY IN SIERRA LEONE
By Ishmael Bayoh
This article is an edited version of the one I first published last year on May 3rd, 2021 immediately after President Julius Maada Bio signed into law, the repeal of Part V of the libel provisions contained in the 1965 Public Order Act.
Since the repeal, we have seen steps taken to make the media professional and viable. One significant development so far was the media viability conference geared towards enabling investment in the media.
President Julius Maada Bio made a commitment on October 28th, 2020 when he was appending his signature to the Public Order Act that he would support an investment conference to enhance private sector investment in the media in Sierra Leone.
No wonder SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla did not mince his words during his statement at the viability conference that “Your Excellency, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, never in the history of our country has there been such a political will to transform the media in Sierra Leone, and as President of SLAJ I am taking full advantage of it”
Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, 3 May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.
After 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing.
The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.
Freedom of Expression is guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and Section 25 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.
Those fundamental freedom of rights was challenged with the obnoxious criminal and seditious libel provisions in the 1965 Public Order Act. That law infringed on the rights of citizens and placed a hook hanging on the heads of Journalists.
Fifty Five years in our law books, where previous Presidents never ventured; and where the immediate past Presisent continuously promised to repeal it but to no avail, President Julius Maada Bio ventured into that territory and successfully repealed it when parliament amended the 1965 Public Order Act on Thursday 23rd July, 2020. The Country’s National human rights institution, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone from 2007 to 2019 in their annual state of human rights report also recommended for a repeal of that law.
This is one among President Bio’s several commitments on Good Governance by repealing Part V of the libel provisions notwithstanding the fact that he was the most vilified on the political landscape. This shows the commitment of him to create the enabling environment for all irrespective of political leaning. Hear what President Bio said on October 28th 2020 when he was signing the repeal amended law at State House: “I have always argued that the repeal will unshackle free speech, expand democratic spaces, and consolidate our democracy. It will open up the space for the growth of the media industry in the country. Professionalism will be enhanced and the best and brightest and more women, especially, will be encouraged to work their trade,”.
At that very momentous ceremony, the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists- Ahmed Sahid Nasralla did not mince his words when he said “Mr President, as I look at you today, I begin to think of urging my son to become a soldier. This is because I know the other Presidents before you had contemplated repealing the Criminal Libel laws. They say there is no courage without fear. As a politician, I know that you also share in the fear that this repeal might expose you to insults, abuse, and vilification. But the fact that you have mustered the bravery to do it, shows me, that only a man, who enters the military profession, knowing fully well, that he may have to go into battle, face bullets and bombs, and may die, that can have the courage to do this.”
The immediate past President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Kelvin X Lewis was also Frank by stating “Mr. President,
since I was young I have come to know that politicians make a lot of promises but they don’t keep them. I was surprised this was kept. Mr. President, thank you sir for keeping your promise and I pray that you will continue to deliver on your other promises.”
From the diplomatic front, the former British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Simon Mustard had this to say “We congratulate his Excellency for achieving his manifesto commitment and the dedication of Minister Swaray to reach this milestone. The UK and our partners stand together with Sierra Leone as we continue to build a new media regulatory system which gives protection to the public, as well as those in positions of responsibility, while also defending media freedom”.
Since the historic repeal in 2020, Sierra Leone has made commendable progress in the area of freedom of the press. In the World Press Freedom Index 2022, Sierra Leone moved 29 places higher from 75th to 46th position out of 180 countries due largely to the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law.
Previously on such dates, the media in Sierra Leone have been using such events to protest, advocate for a repeal of Part V. At times such events have been observed with Journalists in detention, on trial and or harassed under that obnoxious law. Today, it is a sigh of relief as the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists will for the second time have a reason to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. No journalist has been put in jail in relation to the practice of journalism. The incidents of arrest and detention of journalists by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) on orders from above or on orders from influential people have reduced considerably since 2020. As I type, no media house has been closed down for what they print or broadcast.
Moreover, for the first time in the 22 years’ history of the Independent Media Commission (IMC -the statutory body that regulates the media), President Julius Maada Bio approved all seven persons nominated by SLAJ, including the Chairman, to serve in the new IMC Board of twelve professional members.
President Bio’s Government has announced an increment in its annual subvention to the media from Le250 million to Le500 million and the passing of the IMC Act 2020 is one big step toward addressing minimum wage conditions of service of journalists and other media workers, and media pluralism in the country.
These reasons and more, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists are doing a freedom walk. A walk of freedom from the shackles of that obnoxious law and a walk of Freedom that President Julius Maada Bio has done more for the media than any other President before him- thus dubbed as ‘the champion of press freedom’.
This year’s theme for 2022 World Press Freedom Day is *’Journalism Under Digital Siege’.* The theme is intended to highlight the multiple ways in which surveillance and digitally mediated attacks endanger journalists and journalism, according to the United Nations (UN) information page on the event. The enacted cyber security law in Sierra Leone seeks to address the impediments of cyber bullying, cyber-attacks and removes the fears of threats that will silence journalists.
MRCG OBSERVES WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY
The Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) joins the world to observe the World Press Freedom Day 2022 and welcomes the significant progress that Sierra Leone made in the just released 2022 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders (RSF). Sierra Leone moved up 29 spaces from 75th in 2021 to 46th in 2022 out of 180 countries. The MRCG believes that its numerous media campaigns, publications and alerts greatly contributed to this achievement. The MRCG congratulates the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on its successes in championing media freedom and achieving this great feat.
The MRCG Bi-annual Press Freedom publications also show that Sierra Leone had made much progress as a nation in terms of press freedom following the repeal of criminal and seditious libel laws in Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965, the enactment of the Independent Media Commission Act 2020, the signing and commitment to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom and organizing the first National Media Viability and Investment Conference.
The MRCG continues to call on the government, organisations and individuals to ensure freedom of expression and of the press as its monitoring in 2021 recorded more than 10 cases of violation of freedom of expression and of the press against journalists and citizens. These include attacks, intimidations, assaults, arrests, detentions and prosecutions. Some of the violations were carried by the police, state/public officials, social media vigilantes, artists/entertainers and anonymous individuals. “Such a trend will affect the progress made by the country. At this point there should be no turning back to any act that will negatively affect the country’s media freedom ranking”, says Dr. Francis Sowa, MRCG’s National Coordinator.
The MRCG calls on the Government of Sierra Leone and all individuals to ensure the safety and security of journalists. The MRCG also calls on journalists to be professional and responsible in their practice.
The MRCG seeks to strengthen democratic dialogue and accountability, consolidate peace and ensure development through professional, independent and sustainable media based on the right to freedom of expression and of the press.
S/LEONE TO FACE ECOWAS COURT ON DISCRIMINATORY LOITERING LAWS
AdvocAid has filed a case at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice in Abuja, Nigeria, against the Government of Sierra Leone, seeking to overturn the country’s discriminatory loitering laws.
The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) and Sierra Leonean lawyer, Eleanor Thompson, are legal representatives of the Plaintiff. Loitering is a petty offence that is defined in the Public Order Act of 1964 and the Summary Conviction Offences Ordinance of 1906. For example, section 7 of the Public Order Act provides that “Any person loitering in or about any stable house or building, or under any piazza, or in the open air, and not having any visible means of subsistence, and not giving a good account of himself, shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person, and shall, on conviction thereof, be liable to imprisonment for any period, not exceeding one month”. In the case filed on 21 April 2022, the Plaintiff alleges that these laws and their application unfairly target the poor and most vulnerable members of society and subject them to criminal sanctions for potential, rather than actual, harmful acts. Loitering laws are enforced in a discriminatory manner and frequently result in arbitrary and unlawful arrests targeting the poor and marginalized groups in society, particularly those who work in the informal economy. Simply the act of being in a place and not giving a “good account of himself/herself” or “satisfactory account of himself/herself” (as subjectively judged by a police officer) provides a basis for an arrest. The case also alleges that in many cases of women who do not have money when arrested, the police officers demand for sexual intercourse before the women can be released. In some instances, police officers forcefully have sex with these women against their will, and in many cases without using any protection. Those women who do not give the police their demands are charged to court, while those that can satisfy the demands are released without charge. The case alleges that these laws violate various provisions under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to which Sierra Leone is a party, such as the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to freedom of movement. “Loitering laws in Sierra Leone are largely unfair to the poor and underprivileged in our societies.…This case is about justice for the common people in Sierra Leone”, AdvocAid Legal Manager, Juliet Mamawa Kaikai, remarked following the filing of the case. The Plaintiff requests the Court to order Sierra Leone to repeal its loitering laws and to conduct human rights training for law enforcement officers, among others. For Further Information: AdvocAid is a civil society organisation in Sierra Leone that has provided access to justice for girls and women in contact with the law for over 15 years. Contact – Eleanor Thompson, lawyer representing AdvocAid. IHRDA is a pan–African non-governmental organisation working to promote awareness of human rights in Africa and improve the effectiveness of the African Human Rights system. Contact – Oludayo Fagbemi, Senior Legal Officer – To learn more about the application of petty offences in Sierra Leone, check out the resources produced by AdvocAid and CARL. The Campaign to Decriminalise Petty Offences has more information and resources from across the continent.