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How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press

JANUARY 21, 2004
Posted: September 1, 2004

Sylvester Suaray, Awoko
Austin Thomas, Awoko

Police officers attacked Suaray and Thomas, both reporters for the independent Awoko (which comes out five times a week), when they attempted to report on a police scuffle near the newspaper's offices in the capital, Freetown. At the time, a government-launched operation to clear Freetown's streets of informal vendors had flooded the streets with police. According to local sources, a police truck hit a parked car, sparking an argument between police officers and the car's owner. Suaray was attempting to photograph the argument when the officers turned on him and assaulted him. The officers then attacked Thomas, who tried to defend Suaray. The officers also confiscated Suaray's camera.

According to Kelvin Lewis, the paper's editor, a crowd of by-standers intervened and stopped the attack, but both reporters were bruised and Thomas was injured from being hit on the head with a pair of handcuffs.

Afterwards, a senior police officer from another police convoy arrived on the scene, followed the reporters back to their office and threatened them, saying, "if you publish anything I can assure you something will happen to you," said Lewis. He indicated a crowd of policemen in the street, who pointed their guns at the newspaper's staff.

According to Lewis, on January 22, the senior officer returned to the newspaper's offices, after the paper ran a story describing the incident and the assault on Suaray and Thomas. The officer, who was accompanied by another policeman carrying a loaded semi-automatic rifle, threatened Lewis that he would "take care of" the newspaper's staff because they had run the story.

Lewis told CPJ that he had filed a complaint with the Inspector General of Police. He also said that the newspaper's staff was afraid of further attack.

JULY 23, 2004
Posted: September 7, 2004

Alex James, Citizen FM

James, station manager of the community radio station Citizen FM, was attacked by a group of men belonging to a local criminal gang. According to the journalist and other local sources, the attack came in retaliation for the station's broadcasts detailing criminal activity in the eastern neighborhood of the capital, Freetown, where the station is based.

The men called James by name while he was driving home from the station. When he stopped his car, they dragged him out, stripped him naked, and stole his belongings, including two mobile phones. James told CPJ that as his attackers fled the scene, one of them said, "Go tell this on the radio."

Citizen FM broadcasts a daily news show called "Monologue," hosted by veteran journalist David Tam-Baryoh, which is accompanied by a regular phone-in program, hosted by James, during which listeners can call the station and voice their concerns. The programs regularly focus on crime and drug gangs, according to local journalists.

AUGUST 7, 2004
Posted: September 7, 2004

Alie Bai Kamara, Citizen FM

Kamara, a reporter for the community radio station Citizen FM, was attacked by a group of men belonging to a local criminal gang. According to Kamara and other local sources, the attack came in retaliation for a broadcast aired several days earlier that criticized police for not cracking down on criminal gangs and drug dealers in the eastern neighborhood of the capital, Freetown, where the station is located.

Following the broadcast, which featured a segment in which listeners call to voice their own criticisms of local police and criminals, police launched a crackdown on crime in the neighborhood. The crackdown sparked resentment of Citizen FM, Kamara told CPJ.

The attackers beat Kamara with a shovel, injuring his back and face, and accused him of working against them. The journalist was later treated in a hospital and received 12 stitches on his face, he told CPJ.

Kamara filed a police report the same day he was attacked, and police arrested three suspects. However, the suspects' current whereabouts are unknown, and police have refused to inform journalists of their current status, according to Kamara and his colleagues at Citizen FM.

Local criminals assaulted Alex James, station manager at Citizen FM, on July 23, after the station aired a series of programs detailing local criminal activity.

OCTOBER 5, 2004
Posted: October 7, 2004

Paul Kamara, For Di People

Kamara, editor and publisher of For Di People newspaper, was sentenced to two years in prison stemming from October 2003 articles that criticized President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

The court found Kamara guilty on two counts of "seditious libel" under the 1965 Public Order Act. He was taken into custody and transferred to the Pademba Road Prison in the capital, Freetown. Kamara's lawyer, J.O.D. Cole, told CPJ he plans to appeal.

The judge also recommended a six-month ban on For Di People. According to local sources, Sierra Leone's media regulatory body, the Independent Media Commission, is expected to rule on the recommendation.

Under the act, newspaper vendors, printers, and publishers may also be held liable in a libel case. Brima Sesay, chief printer of the John Love Printing Press, which prints the paper, was found guilty of "printing seditious libel" and sentenced to six months jail or a fine of Le10,000 (about US$4), local sources said. Sesay paid the fine and was not imprisoned. Printing press owner Lovette Charles and manager Joseph Charles were acquitted.

The verdicts stemmed from articles that detailed a 1967 Commission of Inquiry into fraud allegations at the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board at a time when Kabbah helped oversee the board. For Di People also reprinted the commission's report in installments.