Journalism Groups Criticize Sierra Leone Over Arrest of Newspaper Editor
Last week's arrest of a newspaper editor in Sierra Leone, on allegations that he spread false information, led journalism groups with both local and global interests to speak out against the use of "colonial-era laws to undermine freedom of the press" in the West African country.
One of the world’s most prominent journalism watchdogs is calling on the government of Sierra Leone to stop threatening freedom of the press in the region after the managing editor of one of the country’s daily newspapers was arrested.
Last week, authorities arrested the Independent Observer‘s Jonathan Leigh on allegations that his newspaper spread false information, allegations based specifically on a front-page article highlighting political violence ahead of local elections in the Kono district. On Tuesday, Leigh was released on $8,000 bail and was ordered not to discuss the situation in public.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was among the groups that called for Leigh’s release.
“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,” Peter Nkanga, the CPJ’s representative in West Africa, said in a news release over the weekend. Nkanga added that that the country should “allow journalists to report on the lead up to elections unobstructed.”
The CPJ was joined by a variety of local groups in speaking out against Leigh’s prosecution, including the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists.
“Political harassment of journalists will not change or hide the truth,” Kelvin Lewis, the association’s president, said to The Associated Press.
This was not Leigh’s first arrest for political reasons. In 2013, he was detained, along with one of his staff members, after publishing an editorial that compared the country’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, to a rat and a dictator.