The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) celebrated the Sierra Leone parliament’s repealed the criminal libel law on 23 July, completing President Maada Bio’s promise he made on the campaign trail before the 2018 election.
In Sierra Leone, libel has been a punishable criminal offence since 1965, which journalists said restricted free speech and expression.
“Criminal libel law puts journalists in jail and that’s a major impediment, and it’s repeal is very huge for journalism, freedom of expression in a country that has gone to war, that has seen millions of people die because of one party dictatorship,” said Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, the head of Society for Democratic Initiative.
Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, the president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), said it was common for politicians to instruct the police force to arrest journalists who criticized public officials.
“The biggest beneficiary of the repeal of this bad law is Sierra Leone,” said the SLAJ. "Our beloved country has now joined the enviable community of progressive nations where free and responsible speech is guaranteed and protected by law. This is a huge milestone for freedom of expression and democracy in Sierra Leone.”
“Criminal defamation laws have no place in a democratic society and have been widely used by autocratic governments to silence the media and jail journalists,” added IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger.
In May 2020, publisher of the Awareness Times, Silvia Olayinka Blyden, was arrested in her home and charged with sedition, defamation, and “perversion of justice”. Jonathan Leigh and Bai Bai Sesay, editors for the Independent Observer, were detained without trial for two weeks in 2013 for publishing a satirical article about former president, Ernest Bai Koroma.
“Our beloved country has now joined the enviable community of progressive nations where free and responsible speech is guaranteed and protected by law,” claimed Nasralla. This is a huge milestone for freedom of expression and democracy in Sierra Leone.”