Journalists detained, charged with “seditious libel”

New York, May 25, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the criminal charges brought today against two journalists from the private weekly newspaper Trumpet. Managing editor Sydney Pratt and reporter Dennis Jones were arrested yesterday and were being held at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in the capital, Freetown, where the paper is based.

Both have been charged with “seditious libel” under Sierra Leone’s draconian 1965 Public Order Act, which local journalists have long struggled to have removed from the books.

According to the journalists, who spoke to CPJ from detention, the charge stems from an article published in the May 24 edition of Trumpet headlined “Kabbah Mad over Carew Bribe Scandal.” The article, citing an unnamed source, said President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was angered by earlier reports alleging that Attorney General and Justice Minister Frederick Carew had accepted bribes.

In October 2004, journalist Paul Kamara was sentenced to two concurrent two-year prison sentences under the Public Order Act, stemming from October 2003 articles that criticized the president. Kamara, editor and publisher of For Di People newspaper, remains in jail.

“Authorities’ use of the outdated and repressive Public Order Act to harass and imprison critical journalists is shameful,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “CPJ calls for the immediate, unconditional release of Sydney Pratt, Dennis Jones, and Paul Kamara, and for all criminal charges against them to be dropped.”