Monday October 31, 2005
By Emmanuel Abalo
The local and international community, media and human rights groups continue their dismal and concurrent view of the continuous imprisonment of the Acting Editor and death of the Editor respectively of For Di Peoplenewspaper, Paul Kamara and the late Harry Yansaneh.
For the record, journalist Paul Kamara who remains in prison today was found guilty on October 5, 2004 of seditious libel against Sierra Leonen President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. In October 2003 the paper had claimed that a commission of inquiry in 1967 had “convicted” President Kabbah, then a ministerial official, of fraud.
Mr. Kamara’s conviction carried a penalty of two concurrent 2-year sentences and his newspaper was banned for publishing for 8 months.
The international community and human rights group have made strong diplomatic representation to President Kabbah’s administration and highlighted the disproportionate sentence meted out to Mr. Kamara in this instance.
While we do not wish to visit the merits and demerits of the case against Mr. Kamara, or whether the paper was given the opportunity to retract the story and apologize, as is traditional in such situations, it is quite evident that there is the perception of a governmental clampdown on the media, muzzling of the press and a threat to freedom of _expression. Perception is everything.
And so for whatever it may be worth, we offer our deepest apologies to President Kabbah for whatever injury the paper may have caused him.
In addition to the woes of For Di People newspaper, several individuals including a member of the ruling Sierra Loen’s People’s Party (SLPP) and member of Parliament Honorable Fatmata Hassan have been convicted of the crime of involuntary manslaughter of the editor Harry Yasaneh.
The late Mr. Yansaneh died on July 28, 2005 from complications to injuries he sustained on May 20, 2005 after being savagely attacked by individuals alleged to have acted on behalf of SLPP Parliamentarian, Dr. FFatmata Hassan. His attackers are reported to have wanted to evict For Di People from its rented premises and to have been opposed to the newspaper because of its editorial line. The late editor filed a complaint with the police after he was beaten up.
On August 27, 2005 the presiding Magistrate ruled that ” pursuant to Section 27, arrest warrants be issued for the following individuals- Mr. Ahmed Komeh, Mr. Bai Bureh Komeh, Ms. Aminata Komeh, the Hon. Dr. Fatmata Hassan, Reginald Bull and Olu Campbell.
Meanwhile, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) later confirmed the arrest of Honorable Hassan and two others, Reginald Bull and Olu Campbell while stating that they are presently working with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to ensure a speedy extradition of the SLPP MP’s children who presently reside in the United Kingdom (UK).
Ms. Hassan subsequently made bail a few days later and was released.
In a strongly worded condemnation of the fatal attack on the Sierra Leonen journalist, the Director General of UNESCO Koichiro Matsuura in August declared, “.For Di People has been subject to repeated attacks, the latest of which cost Mr. Yansaneh his life. I trust that the authorities in Sierra Leone will spare no effort in bringing to trial those responsible for the editor’s death, for the sake of justice, freedom of _expression and freedom of the press. These values, cornerstones of democracy and rule of law, are essential to the reconstruction and development of Sierra Leone, which has suffered from so much violence during the years of civil war…”
UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a mandate to defend freedom of _expression and press freedom. Article 1 of its Constitution requires the Organization to “further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.”
International human rights organizations such as Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, World Organization Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, including the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) have been urging and pressuring the government of President Kabbah to expedite the trial of the accused.
In the same vein, we welcome the assurances issued lately by the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone Dr. Ade Renner-Thomas, that the accused in this matter will face justice.
The events visited in this article are quite troubling and embarrassing and deserve the outmost attention and leadership of President Kabbah for the sake of accountability, justice, compassion and goodwill.
President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and Sierra Leone now have an opportunity to reciprocate the goodwill capital lavished in abundance by the international community on that country during the difficult years of the war by addressing two pressing issues: compassion and the immediate release of journalist Paul Kamara and justice in the death of the late Harry Yansaneh.
“Governments will come and go but the Press will remain”
Emmanuel Abalo is an exiled Liberian journalist , media and human rights activist. He is the former Acting President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). Mr. Abalo presently resides in Pennsylvania, USA and works as an analyst with CITIGROUP, North America.