The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned that criminal charges have been brought against Paul Kamara, managing editor of the For Di People newspaper, and three staff members of the John Love Printing Press, which prints the paper. The charges stem from an October 3 article in the paper implying that Your Excellency is a convict.
Since October 9, For Di People has been unable to print. Some other newspapers have also been unable to appear because John Love Printing Press managers were detained.
On Friday, October 10, Kamara was detained along with Joseph Charles, manager of the John Love Printing Press. On Saturday, October 11, Lovette Charles, the owner of the printing press, and Brima Sesay, its chief printer, were also detained. That same day, all four were brought before a magistrate’s court and charged with seditious libel against Your Excellency, under the 1965 Public Order Act.
Bail was set at Le50 million ($20,408), which none of the detainees were able to pay. They were sent to prison after the hearing. Local journalists told CPJ they are concerned for the health of Lovette Charles, who is elderly and suffers from a heart condition. The four were ordered to reappear in court on Thursday, October 16.
Kamara has been detained several times since October 3, when For Di People ran a front-page story reporting that a 1967 Commission of Inquiry had found Your Excellency guilty of fraud, according to an editor at the paper. The paper has also been serializing verbatim the report of the commission, known as the Beoku Betts Commission, which examined fraud allegations at the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board at a time when Your Excellency helped oversee the board as a Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade.
Kamara has already served a six-month prison sentence after being convicted of criminal libel in November 2002 for defaming a local judge. On Thursday, October 9, a High Court ordered Kamara to pay Le61 million ($24,898) in damages and costs following a civil suit in the same case. He was ordered to pay within 24 hours but was unable to do so. His family and colleagues fear that his assets could now be seized.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ is disturbed that criminal charges have been brought against a journalist for raising an issue of public interest. We call on Your Excellency to do everything in your power to ensure that these charges against Paul Kamara and the employees of the printing press are dropped, and that the Sierra Leonean media are free to practice their profession without fear of intimidation or reprisal.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.