Paul Kamara, the editor and publisher of the For-Di-People daily newspaper, and three staff of the printing press where the paper is printed were, on Saturday, October 11, charged with two counts of seditious libel against President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. They are being detained at the Padema Road Maximum Prison in Freetown, following their failure to meet the stiff bail conditions imposed by a Magistrate court.
Those detained together with Kamara are Brima Sesay, chief printer, Joseph Charles, manager, and Lovette Charles, the 60-year-old proprietor of the John Love Printing Press.
According to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)-Sierra Leone, Kamara and the staff of the printing press were first picked up on Friday, October 10, and held at the headquarters of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). They were arraigned before court the following day and charged under the Public Order Act (1965) for a banner headline in the October 3 edition of the newspaper, which read, “Kabbah a True Convict”.
The article had insinuated that President Kabbah was found guilty in 1968 by a commission (referred to as the Beoku Betts Commission) set up to probe alleged fraud at the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLMB) while he was serving as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade. However, the Speaker of Parliament, Justice Edmond Cowan, who took issue with the publication, argued in parliament that President Kabbah was not a convict because a commission of inquiry did not have the powers of a high court. Subsequently, the paper began serializing verbatim, the Beoku Betts Commission report.
Kamara and the three others were granted bail in the sum of Le50 million each – totalling the equivalent of more than US $100,000 – a condition they were unable to meet. They are, therefore, being held in prison custody, to reappear in court on Thursday, October 16, 2003.
Lovette Charles is reported to have fallen sick after spending the night in the CID cells. When she appeared in court, she vowed never to print for any newspaper again. Incidentally, several newspapers have since failed to appear on the newsstands.
The MFWA is concerned about the repeated arrests, detention and fines on journalist Paul Kamara. We are also particularly worried about the prohibitive bail conditions imposed on the four detained persons. MFWA appeals to the government and judiciary in Sierra Leone to avoid acts that could amount to gagging the independent press and stifling freedom of expression in the country.