Sierra Leone journalists subject to arbitrary arrests

Tuesday, January 27, 1998

Sierra Leone journalists subject to arbitrary arrests

(Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, 27 January 1998)

A recent spate of arrests in Sierra Leone led to at least six journalists being detained in January, some of whom were alleged to have been tortured. The crackdown on journalists began with the arrests of Anthony Swaray, a freelance journalist and Desmond Contey, a senior writer for We Yone, on January 14. They were accused of supplying information to a clandestine radio station and held in jail for one week. (For more information on arrests of journalists in Sierra Leone see IFEX Alerts of January 13, 20 and 21, 1998.

Other journalists arrested by members of the National Intelligence Service were Herald Guardian journalists Sylvanus Kanyako, David Koroma and Mohamed Kallon, who were apprehended at their offices. The journalists were reportedly targeted for an article, which was critical of a senior government official. They were allegedly taken to the official's home and tortured before being transferred to police custody.

The CCPJ welcomes news of the release of Mohammed Kallon on 12 January. However, we are disturbed at persistent rumours of torture of those still in prison, including being burnt by cigarettes and being tightly bound at all times. The latest reports indicate that Sylvanus Kanyako and David Koroma have been transferred from police headquarters to another police station in Freetown. But, their exact whereabouts are not known. Both are rumoured to have been tortured. Koroma is said to have been hospitalized due to injuries sustained since his arrest.

Journalists in Sierra Leone find themselves in a tenuous position under the rule of the current military junta. The regime's low regard for investigative journalism is graphically illustrated in the account of the arrest of Independent Observer sports writer, Michael Danielson. While researching a story about a soldier in Freetown he was confronted by that same soldier in his home and assaulted. When Danielson alerted military headquarters about the incident, he was assured a full investigation would be conducted. Instead, soldiers in charge of the investigation came to Danielson's home and arrested him on 17 January. His whereabouts were unknown until 22 January when he was released.

If you wish to convey your outrage to the leadership of Sierra Leone concerning its recent deplorable treatment of journalists, click here to see a sample protest letter prepared by the CCPJ which includes contact information you can use to write your own letter to the Minister of Information or the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone.