The attention of the Sierra Leone Bar Association (herein referred to as the Association) has been drawn to a certain Press Release, which was issued by the Sierra Leone Police, dated 20th July 2018, bordering on certain purported publications and activities on social and other media, by some alleged citizens of Sierra Leone and which ends with the statement, “YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.”
The Association, is dismayed that such a Press Release can be issued by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) especially when same is grounded on unwarranted speculation evidenced by the words in paragraph 1 of the said press release as follows: “…ISSUES OF PUBLIC CONCERN ARE BEING DISCUSSED/PUBLISHED IN THE ELECTRONIC, PRINT AND THE SOCIAL MEDIA WHICH HAVE THE TENDENCY TO CREATE INSECURITY, INSTABILITY AND FEAR IN THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE.
The Association STRONGLY CONDEMNS the issuance of such press release which may have the effect of stifling FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION; one of the main pillars of democracy, as guaranteed in section 25 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991. The Association is concerned that, the police may have misinterpreted provisions relating to REASONABLE JUSTIFICATION given the speculative circumstances in the press release, especially in paragraph 3 which reads: “THE SLP HAVING MONITORED RECENT DISCUSSIONS/BROADCASTS ON F.M 98.1, AYV TELEVISION AND OTHER INCITING STATEMENTS WERE MADE ON THE PRESIDENT’S EXECUTIVE ORDERS, THE GOVERNANCE TRANSITION TEAM (GTT) REPORT, APPOINTMENT OF AMBASSADORS AND DEPUTIES, OTHER APPOINTMENTS, REMOVAL OF FUEL SUBSIDY AND THE PURPORTED IMPOUNDMENT OF FORMER PRESIDENT ERNEST BAI KOROMA’S PASSPORT HAVE THE TENDENCY TO CREATE TENSION, CHAOS AND INSTABILITY IN OUR SOCIETY”
The Association finds this press release very alarming and is concerned that it might create the impression that the SLP is trying to clamp down on any form of dissent and muzzle the press. The Association wishes to reiterate that the Constitution of Sierra Leone, guarantees with some exceptions free speech and expression to all citizens. These rights are sacred and should not be impinged on except on lawful and reasonable justification which is hardly the case here.
While noting that it is the responsibility of the Sierra Leone police to maintain law and order through the country, the Association notes that the SLP in its release did not provide any concrete evidence of statements that have a “tendency of creating tension, chaos and instability in our society’ Accordingly, only general issues of national importance were mentioned in the release but no specific examples were cited. The Association is of the strong conviction that issues of national Importance must be opened to debate and discussions by all citizens and there should be no attempt to impinge on lawful and reasonable criticisms or lawful dissenting opinions or comments. Unsubstantiated “tension, chaos and instability” must not be used as pretext to muzzle free speech and expressions.
The Association also draws the attention of the SLP to the Independent Media Commission Act 2000, which sets up the Independent Media Commission (IMC), which is the autonomous body responsible for the regulation of the media in Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, the SLBA calls on the Government for this Commission to be further strengthened to enable it perform its functions effectively while ensure that all media houses provide the people of Sierra Leone with credible and objective information, news and analyses without fear or favour.
Furthermore, the Association deems the SLP’s press release as particularly unfortunate as it was issued at a time when the Government of Sierra Leone is planning to release a policy document on how it intends to fulfill its campaign promise of repealing the seditious and defamatory libel provisions contained in the Public Order Act of 1965. The Association lauds Government effort in this regard and urges that same be done expeditiously.
Also, the Association notes the strong show of force by a huge police presence within and around the capital city of Freetown, on Tuesday 17th day of July 2018, in anticipation of a peaceful protest by a cross section of the citizenry, who were assembled to express their grievances on national and economic issues, but who were regrettably prevented from exercising their rights to peaceful protest by the police without reasonable justification.
The Association wishes to state that, Sierra Leone is a democratic state, with values based on the rule of law and respect for human rights and the provisions of the Constitution of Sierra Leone and the police should not arbitrarily detract from such values.
The Association strongly admonishes the police, to respect the rights of the citizens and conduct themselves professionally within the limits of their statutory powers with regard to public order, arrest, detention, National security and the observance of human rights.
The Association wishes to assure the general public and the citizens of Sierra Leone, which it stands by and with them in maintaining and upholding their rights as guaranteed in our Constitution.
Finally, the Association urges all citizens to remain, peaceful, law abiding, patriotic, respect the rights of others and be responsible and to work with the police in that regard.
Dated: The 23rd July 2018
Ishmael Philip Mammie Esq