New York, February 7, 2006—Sierra Leone’s attorney general confirmed today that he will not pursue charges of manslaughter against a member of parliament and two others accused of assaulting journalist Harry Yansaneh in May 2005. At the time, Yansaneh was acting editor of the private newspaper For Di People. A judicial inquest found that the attack contributed to Yansaneh’s death from kidney failure more than two months later.
Prior to the attack, Member of Parliament Fatmata Hassan had sought to evict For Di People and several other independent newspapers from the offices they had rented from her late husband for many years. Hassan wanted access to the building, but she also “was not happy over the content of the paper,” Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, head of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), told CPJ.
The jury in the inquest found that Yansaneh’s death was “accelerated by the beating” and called the death a case of involuntary manslaughter. Presiding magistrate Adrian Fisher issued arrest warrants for Hassan and two men suspected of involvement in the attack. Yansaneh had accused Hassan of ordering the assault, which she denied. All three were detained in August 2005 and later released on bail.
But Attorney General Frederick Carew told CPJ today that there is insufficient evidence that the assault hastened Yansaneh’s death and that his office will not pursue manslaughter charges against Hassan and others. He said doctors who testified before the inquest stated that “chronic” kidney failure was the cause of death; the inquest drew on testimony of doctors, witnesses to the assault, Yansaneh’s colleagues, police, and Hassan.
“I will not pursue charges when the medical report is saying that the cause of death is that he died of chronic kidney failure,” Carew said, confirming reports of his decision in the local press. “The verdict of the inquest has to be supported by cogent or relevant evidence.”
Victor Willoughby, a physician who examined Yansaneh shortly before his death and again during the autopsy, told CPJ that he testified that the assault did not contribute to the journalist’s death.
Carew said he is considering filing charges against Hassan and others for assault, but he declined to give a timeframe for when such charges could be brought.
SLAJ has protested the attorney general’s decision not to pursue charges. SLAJ president Ben Kargbo told CPJ that his organization had called for Hassan to be arrested and charged with manslaughter, along with other suspects. Ben Kargbo said that SLAJ is opposed to the filing of lesser charges. “This matter seeks to undermine the very justice of the state,” he said.