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A man reads headlines of a daily newspaper on March 27, 2018, in Freetown. A freelance journalist was charged with criminal defamation in Sierra Leone in September 2019. (AFP/Issouf Sanogo)

Sierra Leone journalist Mahmud Tim Kargbo charged with criminal defamation

October 25, 2019 4:23 PM ET

Mahmud Tim Kargbo, a freelance reporter in Sierra Leone, was arrested and detained twice in September 2019 after Miatta Samba, an appeals court judge, lodged a complaint with the police against him for a report published September 9, 2019, on his Facebook page and in a WhatsApp group that criticized Samba’s decision to grant bail to several local politicians, according to Kargbo, who spoke to CPJ over the phone, and news reports. The Facebook post has since been deleted, according to a CPJ review of Kargbo’s account, although it was republished in the privately owned newspaper The Organiser. Samba’s complaint accused Kargbo of publishing false news and defamation, the journalist said.

Kargbo told CPJ that he was first arrested by police in Freetown, the capital, on September 12, 2019, without a warrant and detained for two days. Before the arrest, however, Kargbo said he had learned about the complaint and went with the public relations officer for the Sierra Leone judiciary, Moses Kamara, to apologize to Samba. Kargbo was held for two days at the Pademba road prisons in Freetown and was eventually forced to make a written apology to Samba before he was released without charge on September 14, according to The Organiser and Kamara, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.

On September 20, Kargbo was arrested a second time and detained for three days before he was arraigned on 44 counts of criminal defamation and libel under Sierra Leone’s 1965 Public Order Act, according to Kargbo and the privately owned Sierra Leone Concord Times newspaper. He was granted bail and released on September 25 after a second apology, a video of which was provided to CPJ by a source who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. The text of the second apology was published by the privately owned newspaper The Calabash.

Kargbo told CPJ he has not been given a copy of the charge sheet.

During Kargbo's arraignment at a magistrate court on September 23, Samba was present in the courtroom with two other judges and requested that the journalist be released on bail, according to the privately owned Sierra Leone Telegraph newspaper. He was released on bail on September 25, but was not told the date of the next hearing.

CPJ’s repeated calls and messages to Samba went unanswered.

If convicted, Kargbo faces a jail term of up to three years and a fine of 1,000 leones ($0.10) according to Section 26 of the 1965 Public Order Act.

Umaru Napoleon Koroma, Sierra Leone’s deputy attorney general, told CPJ in late September that the government was planning an out of court settlement. As of October 25, 2019, CPJ has been unable to confirm the status of this possible settlement.

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