Threats push Sierra Leonean community radio journalist into hiding

August 15, 2016 4:16 PM ET

Sahr Amadu Komba, manager of the local radio station Eastern Radio 96.5 FM in the diamond mining town of Koidu, in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District, went into hiding from July 27-31, 2016, out of fear of arrest on allegations of inciting the public to protest the government's response to floods that destroyed homes and cut off the road linking the town to the capital, Freetown, according to news reports.

Komba said he began receiving threatening phone calls from police and unidentified men threatening his life after his station aired a conversation with civil society activists on the devastation and cause of a July 27 heavy flood, according to news reports. The flooding provoked violent protests by angry residents, who blamed it on illegal mining in the area, news reports said.

According to news reports, Karamoh Kabba, the most senior government official in the region, defended the mining in the region in a in a July 27 interview with the government-owned Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation 90.2 FM, and likened Eastern Radio's broadcast to those of the Rwandan station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, which broadcast messages calling ethnic Tutsi Rwandans "cockroaches," and threatened to kill them ahead of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis. Human rights groups condemned Kabba's remarks and called for his resignation over his comments, according to news reports.

Kelvin Lewis, the president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, told CPJ he contacted both Kabba and the police, who denied any intention to arrest Komba.

Komba told CPJ that he came out of hiding on July 31 following the intervention of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, but said he fears for his life and has limited his movement after receiving further threats. Most recently, he said, a man accosted him at a gas station on August 6 and told him, "We will handle you."

Komba told CPJ that on August 11 he handed over the recording of the station's July 27 broadcast to a team from the Independent Media Commission, the country's media regulator, which visited him to investigate allegations of incitement.

"Right now my spirit is dampened because instead of encouraging me to keep up doing my professional work which is in public interest, the IMC told me to step down on doing such sensitive reports," Komba told CPJ.

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