Prominent Sierra Leonean journalist released

New York, March 11, 2003—Prominent Sierra Leonean journalist Paul Kamara, founding editor of the popular For Di People newspaper, was freed today after spending four months in prison on criminal libel charges.

Kamara was released from Freetown’s Pa Demba Road Prison at around 10 a.m., according to sources there. Journalists, family members, and well-wishers greeted him at the prison gates. Shortly after, he held a press conference to answer questions about his imprisonment and press freedom in Sierra Leone.

Kamara was jailed on November 12, 2002, after the Sierra Leone High Court convicted him on 18 counts of criminal libel under sections 26 and 27 of Sierra Leone’s Public Order Act. The charges stemmed from a series of For Di People articles criticizing appeals court judge Tolla Thompson for his management of the Sierra Leone Football Association, which Thompson heads. In addition to being a journalist, Kamara owns a popular local soccer team.

Kamara was sentenced to six months in prison. In addition, he was given the option to either pay a 4.5 million leone fine (US$2,000) or spend three more months in jail. The journalist was released after serving four months of his six-month term because, according to local sources, short-term prisoners are often paroled. Kamara paid the fine, which had been reduced to 4.5 thousand leones (US$2) shortly after his conviction.

When contacted by CPJ, Kamara said he intends to appeal his case to the Supreme Court to have his criminal conviction overturned. The journalist claims that he was not given a fair trial. He also said that he will challenge the constitutionality of the laws under which he was charged. “Right now in Sierra Leone we only have a facade of democracy,” Kamara said. “But these laws must be expunged from the books.”

“While we welcome Paul Kamara’s release from prison, he should never have been jailed in the first place,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “We urge Sierra Leonean authorities to take all necessary steps to see that criminal libel laws are repealed.”