Prominent editor jailed and paper banned

New York, November 13, 2002-Paul Kamara, the founding editor of one of Sierra Leone’s leading newspaper, For Di People, was sentenced yesterday to six months in prison for defaming a local judge, said sources in the capital, Freetown.

Kamara was taken to Freetown’s Pa Demba Road Prison on November 12 after the High Court convicted him on 18 counts of criminal libel under sections 26 and 27 of Sierra Leone’s Public Order Act. The journalist was also fined US$2,100 for nine of the 18 counts, sources reported. On the remaining counts, Kamara can either pay a US$1,350 fine or serve an additional three months in jail.

The court also recommended that the government ban his newspaper for six months. Authorities are expected to close the publication soon.

The verdict against Kamara comes almost a year after prominent appeals court judge Tolla Thompson accused Kamara of writing libelous articles in For Di People criticizing the judge’s management of Sierra Leone’s soccer association, which Thompson currently heads. In addition to being a journalist, Kamara owns a popular local soccer team.

According to staff members at For Di People, Kamara appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, where he will dispute the legality of the charges against him, as well as the High Court’s authority to try the case. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments later this week.

Meanwhile, Kamara’s staff has vowed to defy any ban and to continue publishing the award-winning daily.

“Journalists in Sierra Leone have endured terrible violence in recent years, including the death of 15 of their colleagues,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “It is outrageous that authorities are now imprisoning journalists simply because of what they write.”