Inquest says editor’s death was manslaughter

New York, August 29, 2005—An attack on newspaper editor Harry Yansaneh contributed to his death from kidney failure two months later, a judicial inquest found on Friday. A magistrate ordered the arrest of Member of Parliament Fatmata Hassan, three of her children, and two other men for suspected manslaughter after the weeklong inquest, local journalists said.

Yansaneh, acting editor of the daily For Di People, was assaulted on May 10. He died on July 28 of kidney failure, according to an autopsy. Yansaneh alleged that Hassan had ordered the attack, according to local sources and press freedom organizations. She has denied this.

Hassan, an MP for the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), Olu Campbell, and Reginald Bull were detained on Friday. Police said they would seek the extradition of Hassan’s two sons and a daughter from the United Kingdom. Hassan has not been charged. A bail hearing is set for tomorrow.

“Though we cannot say that he was killed by the Komehs (Hassan’s children) and Reginald Bull, the death of Harry Yansaneh was involuntary manslaughter,” the inquest ruled. Hassan’s two sons and daughter, and Bull attacked Yansaneh, it said. The extent of his injuries was not clear at the time. He was not hospitalized.

“The death was accelerated by the beating which Yansaneh suffered,” the inquest added.
Before the attack Hassan was seeking to evict For Di People and five other independent newspapers from the offices they had rented from her family for many years. For Di People‘s offices were also vandalized.

Local journalists say the attack may have been motivated by the newspaper’s criticism of the SLPP and the government. Yansaneh had taken over as senior editor following the imprisonment of For Di People’s editor and publisher, Paul Kamara, in October 2004. Kamara was convicted of “seditious libel” and sentenced to two years in jail for articles that criticized President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

“We are encouraged by the findings of the inquest and the subsequent arrests,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Attacks on journalists in Sierra Leone have frequently gone unpunished. The government must ensure that the process of bringing Harry Yansaneh’s attackers to justice is expedited.”

The government ordered the inquest following strong local and international pressure. The Sierra Leone Journalists Association said it was satisfied with the proceedings and with the outcome.