Journalists assaulted, equipment seized in Sierra Leone
Soldiers in uniform attacked Poindexter Sama, senior reporter, and Alie Turay, graphic designer, both of the daily Awoko Newspaper, as the journalists photographed the troops passing the newspaper's offices in Freetown, the capital, the paper reported on August 3. The soldiers kicked and hit Sama with their guns even though he had identified himself as a reporter, he told CPJ. The journalist said he suffered a swollen face, blistered lips, and bruises, while Turay's shirt was torn. The soldiers also confiscated their mobile phones and two memory sticks, as well as a camera battery that belonged to the paper, the journalist said.
The soldiers were headed to a demonstration being held by former soldiers protesting their discharge by the Ministry of Defense and the alleged non-payment of their benefits, according to news reports. Earlier in the day, the former soldiers had attacked and beaten Pallo Conteh, the Minister of Defense, news reports said.
Kelvin Lewis, Awoko Newspaper's editor, told CPJ that he had asked the military to return the confiscated property to the journalists. He also said that even though they had video footage identifying one of the soldiers who had attacked the journalists as being connected to Conteh, no actions had been taken by the military.
"We condemn the brutal assault on the journalists of Awoko Newspaper as an affront to the rule of law and ask that their equipment be returned to them immediately," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. "We call on authorities in Sierra Leone to not permit impunity to those who break the law while wearing the uniform of the national army."
In a press release, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists identified the soldiers as bodyguards of Conteh. The country's media regulatory body, the Independent Media Commission, has publicly condemned the soldiers' actions.
In a telephone interview with CPJ, Conteh refused to comment, citing "ongoing investigations."