Ibrahim Samura, managing editor and publisher of the privately owned New Age newspaper, died on June 6, 2018, according to media reports and a death certificate seen by CPJ. Samura collapsed in his home and was rushed to a hospital in Freetown, where he was pronounced dead, Kelvin Lewis, president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), told CPJ. Samura’s death certificate states that the journalist died of an intracerebral hemorrhage, a type of stroke, which was in turn attributed to “blunt force injury of the head.”
Lewis in June told CPJ that based on the autopsy report he had seen, there was reason to believe that Samura’s death was connected to a March 31, 2018, assault that the journalist suffered while covering Sierra Leone’s general elections. In June, the local branch of the rights organization Amnesty International called on police to investigate whether Samura’s death was connected to the assault, according to an article published by the news site Concord Times. In December 2018 Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, the SLAJ national secretary general, told CPJ that a medical doctor who explained Samura’s autopsy report to the association had said that the March assault could have been the root cause of the intracerebral hemorrhage.
Samura, 47, was one of several journalists assaulted in Lumley, a neighborhood in the capital Freetown, on March 31, 2018, while covering Sierra Leone’s run-off presidential election, according to Lewis and Patrick Jaiah Kamara, a Concord Times journalist who witnessed the assault. Kamara, who was separately assaulted on the same day, told CPJ that he saw several men beating Samura with a “dog chain” and a thick stick, hitting him on his back, hands, neck, and legs.
In an April 2018 statement, SLAJ said the assault of at least three journalists—including Samura—while they were covering the March 31 run-off election had been carried out “by thugs allegedly on the orders” of members of the then ruling party, the All People’s Congress (APC). The APC issued an apology to Samura for the assault, according to a news report and Kamara.
Samura in April issued a statement in his newspaper saying that he accepted the APC’s apology, according to Lewis and Kamara.
Three Kenyan medical doctors who spoke to CPJ in December 2018 said that it was plausible that an intracerebral hemorrhage, such as the one Samura suffered, could have been caused by a beating two months. However, they added that in order to make this conclusion with a high level of certainty, one would have to rule out any other incidents that could have caused similar blunt force injury to the head during the two-month period.
Simeon Owizz Koroma, the government forensic pathologist, in December 2018 refused to comment on the case and told CPJ he had already submitted his report to the attorney general’s office. He said he could not comment because he expected to be called in as a state witness if the case went to prosecution.
Separate from listing the intracerebral hemorrhage as cause of death, the death certificate noted five additional conditions from which the journalist suffered, including a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lungs; acute pancreatitis, a short-term inflammation of the pancreas; an enlargement of the heart; hypertensive kidneys; and stress-induced gastritis. These conditions were stated as contributory; the medical officer who filled the death certificate did not think they caused Samura’s death, but they could have affected the course of the condition that led to the death, according to the doctors who spoke to CPJ and World Health Organization death certificate template and definitions matching the one used for Samura.
Before he collapsed on June 6, 2018, Samura had not shown symptoms of illness apart from complaining about body aches, especially his feet, according to the journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A day before he died, he was briefly detained by members of the Criminal Investigation Department, who questioned him about his car, which they believed had been stolen, according to Lewis and the journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity. They both said that Samura was extremely stressed about being questioned about the car.
Nasralla told CPJ that SLAJ had repeatedly followed up with police, asking for progress into investigations into the case of Samura but had received no concrete updates.
Brima Kamara, the head of the Sierra Leonean police’s media unit, in late December 2018 told CPJ that police were investigating the case. Initially police had been investigating the March assault but were now "focusing on his death, which presumably emanated from the assault." Kamara said that Samura had before his death reached a "compromise with his alleged attackers" in which the journalist agreed to "drop the matter." Kamara said that five people that Samura had named as his attackers had "absconded from Sierra Leone" but that arrest warrants were in force for all of them.