Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio is seen in Freetown on August 21, 2019. The country recently repealed its criminal libel laws. (Reuters/Cooper Inveen)

CPJ welcomes repeal of criminal libel in Sierra Leone, urges further reform

Abuja, Nigeria, October 30, 2020 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed Sierra Leone’s repeal of its criminal libel laws, and called for further reforms to ensure that journalists can work freely.

On October 28, President Julius Maada Bio signed a law revising the country’s 1965 Public Order Act to remove measures that criminalized publications deemed libelous or seditious, according to news reports.

“Sierra Leone’s repeal of its criminal libel laws is a welcome step toward improving conditions for press freedom in the country, but additional legal reforms are needed to ensure journalists can work unhindered,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Sierra Leone’s government should now reform the Independent Media Commission Law, drop all ongoing criminal defamation cases, and ensure the safety of journalists.”

The repealed measures included multi-year prison terms and fines for convictions. Current legal cases involving those measures will still proceed unless they are withdrawn by state prosecutors, according to Abu-Bakar Sheriff, a Sierra Leonean lawyer and former editor of the privately owned Concord Times newspaper, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

In June, Sierra Leone enacted the Independent Media Commission Law, which expands government control over media ownership and licensing agreements. Local media groups voiced opposition to the law at the time, which they said gave government officials too much influence in outlets’ business decisions, according to news reports.