In a worrying prelude to Sierra Leone’s upcoming June 2023 elections, a journalist covering a local election involving the ruling party has been brutally assaulted by political party thugs. The incident, which occurred on March 28, 2023, during a fight among supporters of District Chairmanship candidates, raises serious worries about the safety of journalists during the general elections.
Alie Melvin Tokowa, manager of the radio station, Fountain of Peace (FOP) 89.7FM, was physically assaulted by supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) during the Moyamba District Council Chairmanship held at the district headquarters of the SLPP. The assailants destroyed his phone, punched him several times in the neck, and slammed his head into a door, leaving him severely injured.
The journalist was rushed to the emergency room at the Trauma Ward 5 of Connaught Hospital in Freetown for treatment. He was discharged on March 31, 2023. Tokowa told the MFWA on April 13, 2023, that his health is improving, although he is currently wearing a neck brace and has to run multiple health checks.
“I was unable to breathe as they strangulated me and squashed me on the ground. Then they beat me with a chair on my back, hit me repeatedly on the head and forced me to give up my phone. I would have been dead if not for the grace of God,” he told the MFWA as he voiced concern for his safety and complained about persistent headaches.
Tokowa had taken out his phone to film an argument that had broken out between aspirants of the SLPP when the incident occurred. As corroborated by Jimmy Jombla, owner of (FOP) 89.7FM, who also spoke with the MFWA, the dispute arose when Joseph Lamboi, an aspirant for the chairmanship allegedly became suspicious that some officials of the SLPP were manipulating procedures in favour of another candidate, Joseph Benedict Mbogba, who is the incumbent chairman and current acting District Secretary of the SLPP.
In the heat of the dispute, Mbogba’s supporters tried to drive Lamboi’s supporters out of the room, leading to the altercation. Tokowa, who was witnessing the incident, stood at a distance where he could capture the whole scene. The journalist would be subsequently attacked, allegedly on the instructions of Mbogba who spotted him filming the altercation. It took the intervention of another journalist, Anthony Kamara, to free Tokowa from the clutches of his assailants. Kamara later took Tokowa to the police station to file a complaint. However, Tokowa lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital for treatment.
The attack on Alie Tokowa has since caused indignation in the country. The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) condemned the assault on the journalist and called on local authorities and political parties and their supporters to respect and protect journalists covering every stage of the electioneering process, and ensure their safety and security at all times.
The owner of FOP 89.7 FM, Jimmy Jombla, told the MFWA that police investigations are still ongoing, and that his outfit is looking forward to the prosecution of the perpetrators.
“I am saddened, I really want justice for this gentleman”, he added.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemns in the strongest terms the brutal assault on Alie Tokowa and calls on the leadership of the ruling SLPP to identify and punish the culprits, without prejudice to any ongoing judicial proceedings. We urge the government and the media regulatory authorities to take a tough stance against impunity for crimes against journalists.
The government and all political parties must sensitize and educate their supporters on the role of journalists while working to create a safe environment before, during and after the June 2023 general elections.