Editor detained under defamation law

Editor detained under defamation law

FEBRUARY 11, 2008Posted February 27, 2008
Jonathan Leigh, The Independent Observer

Freetown police arrested and detained the managing editor of the private daily The Independent Observer on 15 February on criminal libel charges.

Leigh was held under the 1965 Public Order Act after the minister of transport, Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay, filed a complaint. Leigh was arrested following two articles written January 24 and 28, respectively headlined “Minister builds two mansions in two months,” and commentary piece “Dishonorable Kemoh Sesay,” accusing the minister of using his office to acquire real estate.

A Freetown magistrate’s court issued a warrant for Leigh’s arrest on February 11, after he failed to appear before it to answer the defamation charges, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) reported. Leigh brought a medical report when the court resumed on February 15 to explain his absence but the Justice of the Peace questioned the validity of the report and initially denied bail, Leigh told CPJ.

After four hours of detention, Leigh was able to secure a hefty bail of Le 20 million (US$6,722) by application to the High Court, Leigh told CPJ. On February 18, the High Court granted the minister him a restraining order on Leigh to prevent any further publication regarding the minister until the court case was cleared.

After consultation with SLAJ, Leigh printed a retraction on the articles, the executive director of SLAJ, Philip Neville, told CPJ.

The trial is expected to resume in early March. In October 2004, the editor and publisher of the independent newspaper For Di People, Paul Kamara, was imprisoned for one year on two counts of seditious libel charges under the 1965 Public Order Act. In January, the newly elected President Ernest Bai Koroma promised to repeal the act during a courtesy visit to his office by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Neville said.