By Alhaji M. B. Jalloh
Many Sierra Leoneans have condemned the alleged assault on two female journalists and a freelance reporter by two close protection bodyguards of Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio.
Francess Barnard, Esther Marie Samura, the two female sports journalists from Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and Almamy Kamara, a freelance reporter were allegedly assaulted, manhandled and abused by the Presidential guards while covering a World Cup qualifier between Sierra Leone and Liberia at the National Stadium in Freetown a few days ago.
The media umbrella body the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) condemned the alleged assault. In a statement, SLAJ said the treatment contradicts the president’s commitment to freedom of the press and security of journalists.
“SLAJ is more than disheartened that armed State Security operatives can beat up defenseless women in full view of the public, at a time when the government of Sierra Leone has been telling the world about respect for women and girls,” the statement signed by the association’s Secretary General, Mohamed Asmieu Bah, read in part.
Many human rights groups and media organizations locally and internationally have issued statements condemning the alleged beaten of the journalists. But has the SLBC issued any statement on the alleged beating of two of its female staff? Joseph Egbenda Kapuwa is the Director General of the State Broadcaster. I contacted him and this is what he told me.
“The SLBC is a broadcaster and thus runs its own position without necessarily issuing a ‘presser’ which should be characteristic of institutions or persons outside the media and wanting the media to amplify their positions.” As a broadcast media, he added, we do that on our platforms and I can assure you that the SLBC was the first to interview the victims on our Radio and Television programmes on the issue.
Kapuwa went on to say that: “As an institution, we are also part of the Committee set up to get to the bottom of the allegations and determine the next steps. While we condemn the beating of our staff, we also hold that the staff will need to formally make a complaint to management in regard the issue but they remain in shock and seeking medical attention at the moment.”
When asked if he was afraid to make a public statement to condemn the alleged beating of his staff not to hurt the President who appointed him or the government, he declined to respond.
Many people believe that since Mr. Kapuwa is a political appointee, his political interest at the State Broadcaster supersedes the welfare of his staff. But he disagrees.
Hear him: “The welfare of my staff is important and that’s what we are pursuing, not shouting on rooftops.”
Meanwhile, the President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla told me last night that, a committee to investigate the matter had met and established a term of reference, with a one week timeframe to investigate and another week to report with recommendations.
“They have appointed a Chairperson from the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, and two representatives each from SLAJ, SWASAL, WIMSAL, SLRU and a representative from the Center for the Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL),” said the SLAJ President.