July 26, 2016 By Ibrahim Tarawallie
Journalist Sam Lahai was yesterday released on a bail bond of Le20 million by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) after spending three nights in detention, following allegations of defamation by the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Retired Major Sengu Koroma.
Lahai, a Kenema-based journalist and Assistant Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) – east, traveled to Freetown last Friday (22 July, 2016) and handed himself in to detectives at CID headquarters who had been on his trail, but was denied bail and detained, despite the intervention of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) President Kevin Lewis and his lawyers.
His lawyers described the Le20 million bail bond as “ridiculous because the maximum fine for the alleged offence on conviction is Le1million.”
A press release issued by SLAJ condemned the detention of the journalist and vehemently denounced the action of the deputy minister, who is reported to have taken umbrage at the reporter for merely questioning his work as a public official.
According to SLAJ’s Secretary General, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, the journalist wrote an article that questioned whether the deputy minister’s entails running the Kenema Town Council, as he had summoned the Chief Administrator and Procurement Officer to his house, and allegedly threatened them with police arrest should they fail to comply.
“It is unacceptable that even as the justice sector is undergoing salient reforms, the CID continues to detain accused journalists, (and critical citizens), especially on Fridays through the weekend, without investigation,” he said and condemned the act as a blatant display of abuse of public office and defamation laws contained in the Public Order Act of 1965.
SLAJ has advocated for the criminal and seditious libel to be expunged from the country’s law books, although that is yet to be heeded by the government.
While campaigning in 2007, President Ernest Bai Koroma promised to expunge the draconian law if elected, but almost nine years into his second and last term, it is still part of our laws.
Meanwhile, many journalists had been detained during these nine years for various offences under the defamation and libel laws, most prominent being broadcaster David Tam-Baryoh and Jonathan Leigh.