On July 2, 2022, four Sierra Leone soldiers slapped, punched, and kicked broadcast journalist Maada Jessie Jengo on various parts of his body, and also slashed his face with a sharp object, according to news reports and Jengo, who spoke by phone to CPJ.
The attack on Jengo, senior producer and presenter with the privately owned Voice of Peace and Development (VOPAD) Radio 96.5 FM broadcaster, took place on a road in Sierra Leone’s western Waterloo city, according to those sources.
Jengo was getting a ride to the VOPAD office with a hired motorbike rider when they came across the soldiers’ jeep, which was blocking the road, he said. After pleading with the soldiers to make way without any response, the motorbike rider carrying Jengo said the soldiers were displaying a recklessness generally associated with motorcyclists, Jengo told CPJ, adding that he responded that recklessness is not a trait unique to bike riders.
After Jengo’s remark, four soldiers got out of the jeep, he said, adding that one of them rushed at him and slapped him in the face, saying, “Who are you telling that he is reckless and lawless…useless journalist!”
Jengo said he tried to convince the soldiers that his comments were not directed at them, but the three other soldiers joined in beating him. They also slapped the other bike rider twice before he escaped, said Jengo.
Jengo attempted to stop the attack by repeating that he was a journalist, he said, but the soldiers continued to beat him. One said, “Because you work for VOPAD radio? We have dealt with people who are more important than you are…bastards that keep sitting in radio stations and talking about people,” according to Jengo.
One soldier cut Jengo with a sharp object near his left eye, he said. After about 12 minutes of beating, the soldiers dragged the journalist into the back of their jeep and kept hitting him as they drove to a nearby gas station, according to Jengo. After the fuel attendant told them that the station was out of fuel, the soldiers brought Jengo back to where they had picked him up and continued to hit him, the journalist told CPJ.
After they asked Jengo to leave the vehicle, the soldiers pushed him to the ground when he tried to leave, he said. Then they pulled him up and punched him a few more times, laughing, before eventually returning to their vehicle and driving away without him.
The soldiers tore Jengo’s shirt, which had a VOPAD Radio logo on the front, took his identification card, three phones, and recording devices he had with him for reporting purposes, as well as a silver bracelet and chain and about $370 in U.S. dollars and $1.6 million leones ($US115). Jengo said that as of August 10, he had not received any of the items back.
Jengo said in addition to the cut on his face, he developed pains all over his body as a result of the incident. Local press freedom group Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) published a photo of Jengo’s injuries on Facebook.
After the attack, Jengo stopped a motorbike rider for help, but the rider refused to help after seeing the blood on his face, he said. When a second commercial motorbike came along the road, Jengo said that after he begged for a ride, the driver took him free of charge to the Waterloo police station to report the incident.
A day after Jengo reported the incident, military officers, including one of his attackers, visited VOPAD’s office and apologized, he said. The Waterloo police station was very cooperative, according to Jengo, telling him that they were willing to proceed with a court case against the soldiers if he wanted to file a case, which he had not done as of August 10.
Contacted by CPJ via messaging app, Abu Bakarr Sideeq Bah, the Sierra Leone Defense Ministry’s director of defense public relations and information, said that the department was relaying updates on the case to SLAJ, the local press freedom group.
On July 8, SLAJ posted a statement on Twitter by Bah’s department saying the military had identified Jengo’s alleged attackers and was investigating. SLAJ’s president, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, who spoke by phone with CPJ, said that he received assurance from Bah and other military representatives in a July 8 meeting, which the association posted about on Facebook, that the military was investigating to ensure such incidents wouldn’t happen again.
A spokesperson for the Sierra Leone police, Brima Kamara, told CPJ in early August that the investigation was ongoing, but that he did not know of any findings.