After a year in jail, editor freed in Sierra Leone

New York, November 30, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Tuesday’s release of jailed journalist Paul Kamara after an appeals court overturned his conviction and two-year sentence for seditious libel. He had served more than a year in prison for articles criticizing President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. “I am happy that I have been acquitted at long last,” Kamara told CPJ in an interview today. “This is a victory for press freedom.”

Kamara, editor and publisher of the independent newspaper For Di People, was convicted in October 2004 on two counts of seditious libel under the repressive 1965 Public Order Act. The charges dated from October 2003 and stemmed from articles in For Di People alleging that Kabbah was a “convict” and constitutionally unfit to hold office. The articles focused on a 1967 Commission of Inquiry report that allegedly implicated Kabbah in embezzlement of public funds.

The three-judge Appeals Court in the capital, Freetown, ruled on Tuesday that the trial judge had erred, and that Kamara’s action did not amount to sedition. Kamara told CPJ he was surprised by the ruling, which “restored confidence that all is not lost with the judiciary and rule of law.” CPJ and other groups had waged advocacy campaigns seeking his release.

Kamara said he would return to work and would support the media’s ongoing effort to rid seditious libel from Sierra Leone’s statutes. For Di People has long been targeted for intimidation because of its critical editorial stances. Harry Yansaneh, who took over editing duties at For Di People after Kamara’s jailing, died this year after a beating allegedly ordered by a ruling party member of Parliament.

“Justice has finally been served in the case of Paul Kamara, but it has taken more than a year during which Kamara and his family have suffered,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Sierra Leone’s government should immediately undertake legal reforms to ensure that journalists will no longer be jailed for doing their work.”