Sierra Leone grills editor for report on President’s security fears

February 6, 2001 — Police yesterday detained Pius Foray, owner and editor of the independent Freetown daily Democrat, after his newspaper ran a story suggesting that President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah feared for his life following the postponement of elections. He was released later the same day.

The article was written by Foray and ran on February 5 under the headline “Kabbah Afraid: Security Shakeup at the Lodge.” It alleged that the president had become apprehensive in the wake of the January 16 assassination of Congolese President Laurent Kabila and after his own government’s decision to postpone general elections. As a result, Kabbah reportedly shuffled his security regiment and fired one of his guards because he was a relative of former president Joseph Momoh’s wife.

Freetown journalists report that the government’s security concerns have intensified following the announcement last week that elections, which had been due this month for president and in March for parliament, would be postponed for six months. Kabbah’s government said the delay was because of instability in the West African country, which despite the presence of United Nations troops is now in its 10th year of civil war. According to Philip Neville, editor of the Standard Times, the Attorney General announced a ban on political discourse in the media during a January 31 press conference. The Attorney General’s office and several local sources, however, categorically deny this.

Journalists at The Democrat said the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officers had obtained an advance copy of the news story and had gotten a search warrant before arriving at their offices to arrest Foray on February 5. The officers searched the newspaper’s offices for documents that could be relevant to their investigation. They then drove Foray to police headquarters where he was interrogated by the inspector general of police, Keith Biddle. Biddle pressured the editor to reveal his sources for the article, but Foray refused on professional grounds. Foray was released four hours later. .

Sierra Leone is the most dangerous country in Africa for journalists. In 2000, three journalists were killed by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, bringing to 15 the number of journalists killed since 1997 in the war-plagued West African nation. The RUF alone is responsible for 13 of those deaths. .