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Sierra Leone
Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Jonathan Leigh & Co cautioned and discharged

By Hassan G. Koroma

Presiding Judge at the High Court No.1 in Freetown, Justice Abdulai Cham, yesterday cautioned and discharged Jonathan Leigh and Bai Bai Sesay, managing editor and editor respectively of the Independent Observer Newspaper. The two journalists have been standing trial on twenty-six counts of seditious libel allegedly against President Ernest Bai Koroma, following a publication on 18th October 2013.

Prior to discharging the matter, Justice Abdulai Charm said that even though both accused persons have pleaded guilty to count one of the charges which relates to conspiracy to commit seditious libel, he would not impose a fine or custodial sentence, but a caution as to their future conduct.

“Despite the (seditious libel) issue involves the president, you have to respect people. I know your work is to disseminate information but you should not do it in a way to hurt others,” he said, adding “You are young men and you have a long way to go in life, so I am advising you not to do such a publication against anybody.”

Earlier, in his plea of mitigation, defence counsel Ansu B. Lansana said the accused persons have been compliant with directives by the court, such as publishing an apology and a retraction on four consecutive dates (11, 12, 13, and 14 November 2013), in compliance with an application by the prosecution, granted by the judge, demanding such.

In his response, counsel for the complainant, Hon. Manley Spaine said the prosecution was not opposed to dropping all but count one of the twenty-six charges against the two media practitioners.

The two journalists were arrested and charged to court in October 2013 on twenty-six counts of seditious and defamatory libel, under the Public Order Act, 1965, after their newspaper published an article that state prosecutors said was libelous and defamed the president.

The backlash from their arrest led to a tense relations between government and members of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist, who led journalists to march on the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department to demand that the men be released or charged to court, after they were held in detention for more that the stipulated seventy-two hours, as per law. Also, all but few media houses observed a news blackout in solidarity with the men, while international human rights groups and journalist organizations called for their immediate release and for Part Five of the Public Order Act, which criminalises libel, to be expunged.

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