Journalists murdered in Sierra Leone, Canadian journalist shot in the head

Tuesday, June 16, 1998

Journalists murdered in Sierra Leone,
Canadian journalist shot in the head

by Ted Flitton

UPDATED: 29 January 1999

The recent move to restore democracy in Sierra Leone has been shattered by a wave of violence that is claiming freedom of speech as one of its victims. Since the civil war flared up again many journalists have been killed and numerous others abducted.

During the most recent occurrence on 10 January 1999, an Associated Press television crew was shot at in Freetown while being escorted by troops of the West African coalition force known as ECOMOG. US journalist Myles Tierney, a Kenya-based news producer, was killed instantly, while Canadian reporter Ian Stewart narrowly escaped death with a bullet lodged in his brain. After undergoing extensive brain surgery, doctors declared him to be out of danger and recuperating. [Click here for an update.] AP photographer David Guttenfelder escaped without injury. It is still unknown whether the assailant was a member of one of the two rebel factions battling for Freetown, or simply a thief.

The trio was traveling in a station wagon through the increasingly dangerous capital whose neighbourhoods have been carved up by rival combatants of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). While the Nigerian-led ECOMOG's mandate is to protect the government and citizens, it has proven to be relatively ineffective in sparing the lives of journalists reporting on the hostilities. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) declared recently that journalists working in the country have been "targeted for retribution by the RUF and the AFRC," and that the RUF have even gone so far as to draw up a list with the names of journalists on it who must be eliminated for their "anti-RUF coverage."

On 9 January, the RUF claimed the lives of Jenner "J.C." Cole and Mohammed Kamara in Central Freetown. Cole was abducted by RUF members near his residence and taken to the rebels' base camp where numerous other detainees were held. All but Cole managed to escape after an ECOMOG jet launched an attack overhead. Meanwhile, Kamara, a correspondent for the independent radio station SKY-FM, was killed by the RUF due to his work covering recent treason court trials. "Lucky J" and Michael Charlie Hinga, both broadcasters with the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS), fled for their lives after attempting to retrieve the bodies of their colleagues Cole and Kamara. "Lucky J" was one of the detainees held with Cole who was able to flee from the RUF detention centre during the aerial assault earlier in the day. While Lucky J is hiding in an ECOMOG-controlled section of Freetown, the whereabouts of Hinga, who was kidnapped from his residence, remain a mystery.

That same day, Paul Mansaray, deputy editor of the "Standard Times" newspaper, was murdered despite being alerted by a fellow journalist about approaching RUF rebels. After threatening Mansaray because of his reporting, the rebels set his house ablaze and subsequently sprayed it with gun fire. Mansaray, his wife, and three children all perished.

Several other journalists are reportedly missing and feared dead after the day of terror. Mabay Kamara, a freelance reporter, was abducted along with his wife, by the RUF. James Ogogo, an editorial consultant for the "Concord Times", and a Nigerian national, is feared to be in RUF captivity. Sylvester Rogers, the Makeni correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation, is also missing and feared dead.

Arson has also been utilized to stifle the work of reporters. Voice of America's Kelvin Lewis managed to narrowly escape the conflagration that engulfed his house while carrying his 70-year-old mother in his arms. Heavy street battles broke out near the offices of the "Concord Times" and the "Standard Times," both of which were destroyed and later consumed by fire. Although the offices of SKY-FM met a similar fate, its broadcast studios were apparently not targeted for destruction. Responsibility for the acts was claimed by the RUF. The SLBS building, including the studios, received serious damage during three days of fighting, but the transmitter miraculously remained unscathed.

The crescendo of violence against the journalism profession can only increase in severity the longer the civil war rages. Therefore, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) urges all human rights organisations concerned with freedom of expression to do all they can to support the journalists struggling to survive this dire situation and ensure that fair and accurate reporting on the bloody conflict can continue. CJFE sends its condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of those journalists killed or injured in Sierra Leone.

For news about CJFE's Assistance Fund for Sierra Leone journalists, see the Media Release, dated 1 May 1998.