TERROR REIGNS AMONG JOURNALISTS IN SIERRA LEONE AS AT LEAST TWO MORE COLLEAGUES MURDERED
On 9 January, two journalists with the independent radio station SKY-FM (106) were murdered by RUF rebels. Jenner "J.C." Cole, an on-air broadcaster, was murdered after being abducted by RUF rebels from his home in central Freetown. Cole was being taken to an RUF base in Freetown with other captives, when an ECOMOG jet attacked overhead, allowing the others to flee. Shortly thereafter, CPJ says Cole was shot in the head by his abductors in front of his fiancée and died immediately. Another SKY-FM journalist, Mohammed Kamara, who covered court proceedings such as the recent treason trials, was also shot dead by RUF rebels at around the same place and time that Cole was murdered.
One of the captives who managed to flee during the ECOMOG attack was "Lucky J", an on-air broadcaster with the government-owned Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS), who had been abducted by RUF rebels from his home in central Freetown. Later, when he and Michael Charlie Hinga, an on-air broadcaster with SLBS, tried unsuccessfully to move Cole's body out of the street to bury him, they were attacked again. Lucky J is alive and safe in an ECOMOG-controlled section of Freetown, but CPJ says, "there are conflicting reports on whether Hinga was subsequently killed by RUF rebels or whether he managed to escape from his abductors." He had also been abducted by RUF rebels from his home on 9 January.
In other incidents, CPJ reports, Voice of America stringer Kelvin Lewis' house was burned to the ground by RUF rebels, but "he managed to escape, running for his life while carrying his 70-year-old mother in his arms." RUF rebels managed to completely destroy and burn to the ground the editorial offices of the independent publications "Concord Times" and "Standard Times" and of SKY-FM (106). However, CPJ reports that the SKY-FM broadcast studios were still standing. As of 20 January, the only station broadcasting was the government-controlled FM 98.1 transmitting from New England near the ECOMOG stronghold, Wilberforce Barracks. FM 98.1 is airing religious music, an occasional presidential or government statement, and the British Broadcasting Corporation's daily programs, Focus on Africa and Network Africa. No original local news was being broadcast as of 20 January.
WAJA "condemn[s] in no uncertain terms the abduction of journalists by the rebels, the killing of journalists and the destruction of media houses and equipment," saying it "has had occasion in the past to condemn the anti-media measures of the Tejan Kabbah regime, particularly the death sentence passed against some journalists." WAJA continues, "Whilst urging all parties in the crisis in Sierra Leone to lay down arms and bring peace to the long-suffering people of Sierra Leone, we equally appeal to them to respect the dignity and right of journalists, irrespective of their perceived political leanings, to do their work."
CPJ comments, "This is the second time in as many years that Sierra Leone's journalists have shown unparalleled courage and commitment in what has rapidly become one of the most dangerous environments in the world for journalists to practice their profession. The damage that has been done, comes at a time when few media professionals have recovered professionally or personally from the previous crisis of 1997/1998." CPJ is calling for international support for the country's journalists.