Journalists arrested for ‘insulting' Sierra Leone President

Sierra Leone's President Ernest Koroma. PHOTO | FILE 

Two journalists have been detained for insulting Sierra Leone`s President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Officials from the Criminal Investigation Department arrested the managing Editor of the Independent Observer newspaper, Jonathan Leigh and his news editor Bai Bai Sesay over an article comparing the President to a rat.

The article, titled "Who is molesting who: Ernest or Sam Sumana", was addressing the feud between the president and his vice.

The two have been involved in a bitter succession battle that is worsening by the day.

Mr Leigh is seen as one of the VP`s supporters in the media.

His controversial article accused the President of betraying his VP by seeking to do away with him despite the latter bankrolling his 2007 election.

It said President Koroma was abusing the country’s constitution and becoming a dictator and "behaving like a rat and should be treated like one”.

The article claimed the President was complicit in setting up his VP for ridicule, including in last year`s infamous Al Jazeera documentary linking Mr Sumana to corruption.

"Chief Sumana being discreet and charismatic; he pretends not to know what the President was planning for him. In actual sense, he was notified by the very people the President speaks to about setting Chief Sumana up, molest and humiliate him so the public would despise him when it comes to the administration of the country. Even the Timber gate and the Aljazeera crisis according to information was a plot hatched by President Koroma to paint Chief Sumana...," part of the article reads.

Sources described a seriously angry President Koroma who through his personal attorney demanded an apology and a retraction of the publication.

Selective justice

The fight between the two has since spilled over to the public through the media.

Last week there were reports that President Kororma allegedly ordered that Hajj pilgrims recommended by the VP for government sponsorship be left stranded at the airport.

The presidential feud took an even more serious turn with the reported boycott of Cabinet meeting by the VP this week.

Supporters of the president interpreted that as an open defiance to his authority and part of a plot to gain sympathy by the VP.

Until Saturday evening, Mr Leigh and his editor were still at the CID headquarters.

The pair were said to be on their way to the office of the Independent Media Commission, which had invited them for questioning following the publication on Thursday when they were arrested.

The head of the CID was cited saying they were been interrogated and their findings would be sent to the office of the Attorney General for legal adviser on further action.

Meanwhile, while many agree that the journalists may have gone a little too far in their article, their arrest has however raised a number of questions.

Who ordered it?

In addition, there is the issue of ‘selective justice’, with critics asking why a similarly offensive article against the VP by the pro-government Awareness Times newspaper has been ignored.

The Awareness Times is owned and published by the Special Executive Assistant to the President, Sylvia Blyden, who also serves as his de factor spokesperson.

She has been accused of ‘lying’ that the journalists were detained after an official complaint was filed by the Attorney General.

Some would want to believe the President ordered their arrest.

The “VP’s boycott of this week’s Cabinet meeting was boastfully publicized to gain sympathy. But, it boomeranged as it made many to realize that VP is too much in a haste to be President of Sierra Leone; to extent of folks publicly opening up fronts against his boss,” the Awareness Times read in part.

Ms Blyden was criticised by international media watchdog recently for promising a crackdown on journalists who are critical of the government.

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