In Sierra Leone, journalist imprisoned after criticizing president

Abuja, Nigeria, November 4, 2014–A journalist in Sierra Leone has been imprisoned after criticizing President Ernest Bai Koroma’s handling of the Ebola outbreak, according to news reports and local journalists. David Tam Baryoh was arrested on Monday.

Baryoh, host of the popular weekly “Monologue” radio program aired on the independent Citizen FM, was arrested in his office by police who did not have a warrant, according to news reports and local journalists. Baryoh was initially detained overnight at the Police Criminal Investigation headquarters in the capital, Freetown, where he met briefly with his lawyer, local journalists told CPJ. He was not allowed to see his wife.

Local journalists said they believed Baryoh’s arrest to be in connection with the November 1 “Monologue” show, which was taken off the air during its live broadcast, Kelvin Lewis, president of Sierra Leone’s Association of Journalists, told CPJ. In that show, Baryoh interviewed an opposition party spokesman who criticized Koroma and his government’s handling of the Ebola outbreak, local journalists said. Baryoh and the party spokesman also criticized Koroma’s intention to run for a third term in office, according to news reports. During the program, Baryoh also interviewed Vice-President Samuel Sam-Sumana, whose relationship with Koroma has soured, according to local press reports.

Lewis told CPJ that he met Baryoh at the police station, where the journalist told him the police had showed him an executive detention order signed by President Ernest Bai Koroma, which accused him of incitement. While Baryoh was at the station, a doctor diagnosed him with high blood pressure and recommended hospitalization, Lewis said. However, police, citing emergency powers given to President Koroma, remanded Baryoh to the Bamenda Maximum Security Prison. No official charges have been filed against him.

Under the current state of emergency in Sierra Leone, intended to restrict spreading of the Ebola virus, the president has wide-ranging powers, including the arrest of any person without a court order, Lewis told CPJ.

BBC correspondent Umaru Fofana who visited Baryoh in prison wrote on Facebook that the journalist was “struggling to stand upright as he repeatedly bent down and held his knees.”

“Sierra Leone’s genuine state of emergency means that critical thinking and public debate are more important than ever. Locking away journalists without charge helps nobody,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa representative. “We call on President Ernest Bai Koroma to ensure that David Tam Baryoh is released immediately and that journalists are allowed to do their jobs freely.”

Osho Coker, Secretary to the President, declined to comment to CPJ. Information Minister Alpha Kanu did not reply to CPJ’s calls or a text message.

Baryoh has been targeted by government officials in the past. In January, he was arrested and accused of seditious libel, according to news reports. In May, “Monologue” was banned for two months following a government directive, according to news reports.