Media rights groups seek release of detained Sierra Leonean journalist

MEDIA rights organizations have called on thhe Sierra Leonean Government to release the managing editor of a local daily newspaper after his arrest on charges of publishing false information.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists in their statements described the arrest as a case of political harassment which undermined freedom of the press.

Jonathan Leigh, managing editor of the Independent Observer, was arrested last Thursday on accusations of publishing false information, the organizations said. The front-page article was about reports of political violence in Kono that killed, at least, three people ahead of local by-elections, they said.

Reuters quoted Peter Nkanga, official of the American group saying, “The detention of Jonathan Leigh and the threat of criminal prosecution is a troubling reminder that Sierra Leone continues to use colonial-era laws to undermine freedom of the press.” “Authorities should immediately release Leigh and allow journalists to report on the lead up to elections unobstructed.”

Officers took Leigh from his office late Thursday, obtained a statement from him and then detained him, the Sierra Leone association said. Leigh was denied bail, said Kelvin Lewis, Sierra Leone Association of Journalists president. Under the 1965 Public Order Act, anyone found guilty of publishing false news can be fined and given up to two years in prison.

Leigh had been arrested previously. In October 2013, Leigh was held on charges of sedition and libel over a story criticizing President Ernest Bai Koroma, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Sierra Leone association expressed concern about the persistent arrests of journalists. Lewis called on President Koroma to follow through on a 2007 campaign promise to repeal certain criminal libel laws and the 1965 Public Order Act.

“Political harassment of journalists will not change or hide the truth,” Lewis said.

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