New York, September 25—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned for the safety of seven Sierra Leonean journalists, all longtime critics of the government who received identical anonymous death threats during the last week.
CPJ obtained a copy of one letter, postmarked September 14 and signed by an otherwise unidentified “Danger Squad.” Titled, “Warning: Journalists’ Hit List,” the document named all seven journalists. “All must die before elections, all these journalists are enemies of the state,” it said.
The threatened journalists include David Tam Baryoh, head of the Center for Media, Education, and Technology; Jonathan Leigh, editor of the Independent Observer; Paul Kamara, founding editor of For di People; Chernor Ojuku Sesay of The Pool; Philip Neville of Standard Times; Richie Olu Gordon of Peep; and Pios Foray of The Democrat.
“This is an extremely worrying development, and we urge Sierra Leonean authorities to investigate this matter immediately,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Similar threats preceded the murders of some 10 journalists by rebel forces in January 1999. Authorities should take preventive measures now to protect our colleagues.”
Journalists already targeted
CPJ sources in the capital, Freetown, report that the seven journalists on the death list have been targeted in the past for their critical reporting on government policies and the country’s shaky recovery from a brutal civil war.
Sierra Leone remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. In 2000, Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels killed three reporters, bringing to 15 the total number of journalists murdered in the war-plagued West African nation since 1997. The RUF alone is responsible for 13 of those deaths.
CPJ sources in Freetown believe that the journalists were threatened for criticizing the government’s decision to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections. The elections were scheduled for December 2001 but have now been put off until May 2002.
In a press release issued on September 22, the seven journalists said they reported the matter to the deputy Inspector General of Police. The release added: “We wish to believe that unlike other police investigations in the country, this one [will] not die a natural death.”