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Newspaper faces criminal prosecution

(MFWA/IFEX) - On 24 February 2011, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) condemned threats by the country's authorities to prosecute Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, publisher of "Awareness Times", a privately-owned Freetown-based newspaper, with the antiquated criminal libel law.

According to the SLAJ, the use of the seditious criminal libel law is illegal and a threat to media freedom and free expression.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) correspondent reported that the SLAJ condemnation followed a 22 February complaint that the authorities filed against the "Awareness Times" at the Independent Media Commission (IMC), the media regulatory body, over an article headlined, "What's the Colour of the APC Leader's Underwear?"

The 17 February article by Blyden accused President Ernest Koroma, who is also the chairman of the ruling All People Congress (APC), of belittling the presidency and reducing political discourse to a discussion of male politicians' underwear, in what has become known as "Koromaism".

The correspondent said that in the complaint, the country's Attorney General, Frank Bai Kargbo, warned that, should the IMC fail to sanction Blyden, the government would be left with no other option than to resort to existing provisions including the use of criminal prosecution under the Public Order Act of 1965.

"I shall be obliged, if the IMC would treat this complaint with utmost seriousness and urgency and bring appropriate sanctions at the disposal of the Commission to bear," the letter added.

"Even though SLAJ respects the rights and dignity of public officials and other members in society, we encourage them to make use of the Independent Media Commission, when they feel aggrieved against the media," SLAJ president Umaru Fofana appealed to the authorities.

SLAJ reminded President Koroma to uphold his campaign pledge by repealing the law.

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