Journalists should exercise a lot of caution and a heightened sense of responsibility during States of Emergency

By KABS KANU :

Siierra Leone is under a genuine State of Emergency. Ebola has not only been killing our people in droves ; Everybody’s nerves are frayed and on edge. People are incensed because of the death of their relatives, friends, neighbours, townsmates  and fellow citizens. They are mad because their movements are restricted, though it is for their own good. They are mad because of the disruption of economic activities . In the state they find themselves, they are easily pliable and are prone to any kind of incitement and unwitting persuasion to resort to chaos. Under such circumstances, it is not common sense for any journalist to try to inflame public passions.

Journalists should also know that during a State of Emergency , no  government worth its salt would sit by supinely and watch anybody trying  to incite chaos and bedlam in the country without acting.  When the SLPP Government of the late President Tejan Kabbah found itself in the same predicament where it had to declare a state of emergency ( In their own case because of political turmoil) , the government did not treat its detractors with kid gloves. Thousands of people were arrested and jailed by the SLPP Government without any explanation or trial. The rights and freedoms of citizens are  suspended  during a State of Emergency . A government can detain citizens and hold them without trial during a state of emergency . The  International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights lists all the rights to be derogated in a state of emergency.

If the government has a reasonable belief that a citizen is a security risk during a state of emergency, the government can detain that citizen indefinitely without trial. The Writ of habeas corpus is also inoperative  so there is no provision for a detainee to appear in court in 24 or 48 hours as applicable. Article 4 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), permits states to derogate from certain rights guaranteed by the ICCPR during a state of emergency.

Any learned lawyer or journalist should know this. It is not dictatorship. It is not arbitrary display of power. It is the law. It is the constitution. Our lawyers and journalists are conversant with the provisions of a State of Emergency , but the pull of partisans politics and parochial interests seem to be too strong.

States of emergency are upheld by International Law. That is, it is within the prerogative of any government to declare a state of emergency and to suspend the aforementioned rights and privileges , as applicable. It is not an Ernest Koroma or APC issue. It is the law. The SLPP did it when it became necessary and thousands of people languished at the Pademba Road. Scores of them died needlessly.

A STATE of emergency by any name is a state of emergency , whether declared for a natural disaster , health or political crisis.  All that is necessary is for the government to deem it that a country is in  danger and a state of emergency is immediately declared . The provisions are applicable in all the various forms of states of emergency. 

The decision of a government to declare a state of emergency cannot be construed as an arbitrary display of power. It is within the prerogative of any government to declare a state of emergency during a time of natural or human-made disaster, during a period of civil unrest, or following a declaration of war or situation of international/internal armed conflict. 

No  reasonable person will take the law into his hands and seemingly challenge the President and his government at a time like this. This particular Ebola outbreak is so serious that  U.S. President Barak Obama declared it an international security issue.  In Sierra Leone, likewise, it a national security issue. To question the right of the government to declare a state of emergency under such circumstances is an exercise in incorrigibility. It is wrong to argue , for instance, that “The state of emergency was a ruse to stifle freedom of speech and stop concerned critical comments on the government mishandling of the Ebola”, as a learned participant in the COCORIOKO FACEBOOK FORUM argued. President Ernest Bai Koroma swore an oath to defend and protect the security and safety of every citizen, irrespective of color, creed , tribe or region, and his declaration of a State of Emergency in Sierra Leone to better deal with the Ebola outbreak was an extension of his duty to protect and defend the safety of his people. 

Ebola is a both an  emergency  and a national security issue and  so the President had a right to declare a state of emergency during this tense period in our nation. The Fundamental  reasons for the declaration of a state of emergency are to protect and defend the people of Sierra Leone ,  place the country in a heightened state of alert and  gird the loins of the nation for robust action to deal with the rampaging  scourge.  To protect the lives of the people and stop the transmission of the disease, the government needed the State of Emergency to take high-profile actions , like quarantining communities and regions or invoking militarized operations to restrict public movements and contacts  for instance, without first having to go  through legislative debate and approval. It is therefore wrong for anybody to contend that it was declared  to stifle dissent or create an alibi to arrest journalists.  

The Sierra Leone Constitution provides  for a state of emergency :

HERE IS WHAT THE SIERRA LEONE CONSTITUTION SAYS :

Section 29 (2) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone provides;

(2) The President may issue a Proclamation of a state of public emergency only when—

a. Sierra Leone is at war;

b. Sierra Leone is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war; or

c. there is actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the whole of Sierra Leone or any part thereof to such an extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security; or

d. there is a clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the whole of Sierra Leone or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert the same; or

e. there is an occurrence of imminent danger, or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity affecting the community or a section of the community in Sierra Leone; or

f. there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of Sierra Leone.”

The Ebola crises meets all the above criteria.

During a state of emergency , a government  determined to maintain  peace and  protect and defend the security of the nation cannot allow any of her citizens  to use the period to fracture the peace and tranquility of the nation, stir public unrest, open old wounds and provoke tribal hatred  because if chaos sets in it is the government that gets blamed. Chaos  To prevent a citizen from inciting such chaos that would lead to the destruction of precious lives and property,  the government can use the provisions of the State of Emergency to detain that person in the interest of the nation. The person is not being punished, per se. Rather, the government is protecting and defending the nation from the security risk posed by the person.

People carry the body of a man killed during ethnic clashes in Nakuru

THIS IS THE RESULT OF MEDIA INCITEMENT OF TRIBALISM IN RWANDA

David Tam-Mbaryoh is a good friend of mine and I hate to see him in his present straits , but he should have exercised discretion and avoided playing to the gallery. Discretion is the better part of valor. All reasonable people know the power of the media . An indiscreet  journalist or broadcaster  can stir public disaffection  and ignite chaos   by his  writings and utterances . And let us be real . This has nothing to do with politics.  It was the SLPP yesterday. It is the APC today. It  could be the  PPP, NUP, UDM  or what- have- you tomorrow.  The facts are the same.A state of emergency is a state of emergency and those who control public emotions must be cautious during a state of emergency.  The radio is one of the most powerful sources of communication, reaching out to every nook and corner of a country instantly. It can shape perceptions. It can gladden the heart in a moment. It can annoy or stir public discontent in a minute and provoke public disobedience or civil disorder.  Any journalist invested with such powers to shape public perceptions or shift public sentiments and reactions needs to exercise those powers prudently and responsibly , especially during a state of emergency when the nerves of the people are on edge and the probability of civil chaos is high.

The worst offence a journalist will ever commit is to ignite tribal chaos in his country. The horrors that took place in Rwanda stand as a stark reminder of the dangers of media incitement of tribalism, and let no one deceive you , our people in Sierra Leone are also pliable to tribal influence, especially at a time like this when dangerous elements within the society gave the Ebola outbreak a tribal face at the onset.

 

tribalism

THE EFFECTS OF TRIBALISM IN LIBERIA

President Ernest Koroma has an indelible record for observing freedom of speech, freedom of the press and fundamental human rights.  He has the best record of any Sierra Leonean President since Independence. As Sorie Fofana ,  a journalist , wrote, President Koroma has always been a good friend of the media and his record as a media-friendly President will definitely be one of his enduring legacies .

The existence of  freedom of speech and freedom of the press do not however  mean freedom from being held accountable for what you write or say.  Sierra Leone is a country of laws. And as the Chief law enforcing officer of the nation, President Koroma has to enforce the law, even though he has a passionate love for the media.

We hope  journalists in Sierra Leone would understand the enormity of their power and try to  exercise self-regulation during times of emergency to avoid inciting the gullible populace and plunging the nation into chaos.

We call on President Koroma to forgive David Tam -Baryoh . Bad bush nor dey for troway bad pikin ( There is no bad bush to conceal a delinquent child ).

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