On October 9, 2014, a court in Kenema City in eastern Sierra Leone fined Ibrahim J. Ganda, a journalist with Radio Vaahun, a privately-owned Liberian radio station, for illegally entering “a quarantined zone in Sierra Leone.”
According to the MFWA’s correspondent in Sierra Leone, Ganda was arrested on October 5 in Kailahun district in the eastern region while traveling to Radio Moa in Kailahun District, which borders Liberia.
Ganda had to either pay a fine of one million Leones (about US $200) or serve a four-month jail term. The journalist paid the fine and returned to Liberia.
Even though there have been no official pronouncements banning journalists from going to some places, the Assistant Inspector General of Police in the Eastern Region, Afred Karrow Kamara, insisted that Ganda could not go to the zone in question. Kamara also said the journalist had no legal documents to enter Sierra Leone, although as a citizen of a West African country, the journalist could stay in Sierra Leone without a resident or working permit for 90 days.
In an interview with the MFWA’s Sierra Leone correspondent, the Eastern Region Chairman of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Bob Batilo Saffa, said Ganda is, in fact, a Sierra Leonean journalist working in Liberia. Saffa described the incident as “mere scam built out of malice” and added that many officials in the area are aware of the good working relationship between Radio Vaahun in Liberia and Radio Moa in Sierra Leone.
The MFWA’s correspondent also reported that due to this action against the journalist, journalists in the area have instituted a media blackout on all police activities in the area until further notice.
Governments and officials in West Africa, especially in countries affected by the Ebola outbreak are increasingly violating journalists’ right to freedom of expression and also citizens’ right to access information. A recent report by the MFWA on the implications of Ebola on freedom of expression illustrates how press freedom restrictions are impeding access to timely and accurate information on Ebola.