Minister says President Koroma is committed to repealing criminal Libel law
May 3, 2017 By Mohamed Massaquoi
Minister of Information and Communications has in an exclusive interview with Concord Times yesterday stated that president Ernest Bai Koroma was committed to repealing part five of the 1965 Public Order Act, which criminalized libel.
Mohamed Bangura said his ministry has engaged members of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, (SLAJ) and other relevant authorities to address the issue, adding that series of consultative meetings have been held and that a draft document has been produced, which is now with the law officers department.
He said a cabinet paper would be developed and would late later be sent to parliament for approval.
According to Sections 26 and 27 of the Public Order Act of 1965, “any person who maliciously publishes any defamatory matter knowing the same to be false shall be guilty of an offence called libel and liable on conviction to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three years or to a fine not exceeding one thousand Leones or both.
“Any person who maliciously publishes any defamatory matter shall be guilty of an offence called libel and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding seven hundred Leones or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment, “the Act states.
Meanwhile,SLAJ has often and again called on government for the repeal of the law and it was against that backdrop President Ernest Bai Koroma promised in his 2007 presidential election campaign that, if elected, he would repeal that ‘obnoxious’ law.
In 2009,a case for the repeal of the 1965 Public Order Act was brought to the Supreme Court in Freetown by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), against the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Serry Kamal and the then Information and Communications Minister,Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo.
Both sides made their arguments in front of five presiding Supreme Court Judges, including the Honourable Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh, Justice Tolla Thompson, Justice Virginia Wright, Justice Shahineh Taqi and Justice Semega Janneh.
SLAJ was represented by Yada Williams Esq., while the Information and Communications Minister and the Minister of Justice were represented by Lawyer Farma.
On behalf of SLAJ, Mr. Julius Spencer of Premier News, Philip Neville of Standard Times Newspaper, Olu Gordon of Peep Magazine and Unisa Bangura of Standard Times Newspaper, filed their sworn-in affidavits to the Supreme Court.
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) argued that the Public Order Act of 1965 criminalizes defamatory libel, whilst alleging that the Act in question goes against the provisions of the 1991 Constitution. SLAJ therefore wanted the Supreme Court to interpret the constitution and repeal the 1965 Pubic Order Act.
Lawyer Farma representing the Government argued otherwise, as he vehemently opposed SLAJ’s position to repeal the Criminal Libel from the country’s law books.
Also, the Society for Democratic Initiative (SDI) unreservedly and unequivocally condemned the use of the 1965 Public Order Act to incarcerate two journalists- Jonathan Leigh and Bai-bai Sesay of privately-owned Independent Observer Newspaper, and later charging them with 26 count charges.
Sierra Leone has acceded to many international instruments- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, African Charter on Democracy, Elections and all these international instruments promote and protect free expression and journalistic freedom.
The Secretary General of SLAJ, Ahmed Said Nasnarrah, said they accepted the commitment of government to address the issue as all the stakeholders, who were invited by the government to look into the law, were against it.
“We now wait to see the action of government on this because the document has been taken to the law officers department and we were told that appropriate action will be taken,” he said.