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‘Criminal Libel repeal a triumph for democracy’ -Speaker of Parliament

By Ibrahim Tarawallie

Speaker of Sierra Leone’s House of Parliament has described the repealed of the criminal and seditious libel laws in the 1965 Public Order Act as a milestone for press freedom and triumph for democracy and rule of law.

It was historic and momentous on Thursday July 23, 2020 as MPs from both sides of the house spoke about how bad the laws have been, especially to media practitioners since it was enacted some 55 years ago. They extensively debated and repealed the obnoxious and draconian law.

Lawmakers also scrutinized and passed into law the Independent Media Commission Act 2020, which seeks to regulate the conduct of journalists in the discharge of their duties.

After the amendment, Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu said Parliament has restored the dignity of the media through the repeal and expressed hope that responsible and professional journalism will be practice in Sierra Leone.

According to him, all the safeguards in the new IMC act of 2020 are significant millstones to enhance and strengthen press freedom. He described the passage of both Acts as a triumph for democracy and good governance.

Prior to the debate, Chairman of the Legislative Committee in Parliament, Hon. Hindolo Moiwo Gevao said: “I want all of us to consider this moment as a solemn one in our democratic dispensation. Several people have made tremendous efforts for this moment to become a reality.”

He thanked President Bio for delivering on his manifesto promise to repeal the infamous Part 5 Public Order Act, which criminalizes libel to strengthen the media in Sierra Leone.

Hon. Gevao stated that as legal practitioner, he had witnessed journalists belaboring strenuously under the crime of seditious libel, referencing the case of Dr. Sylvia Blyden in 2010 and Philip Neville whom he referred to as “prominent publishers in Sierra Leone”.

Acting Leader of NGC, Hon. Foday Mario Kamara, thanked the president for such a patriotic action as past presidents tried to repeal it but to no avail.

“Today, Sierra Leoneans will ask how safe are we in the hands of our journalists with regards to professional and responsible journalism. Safeguards are now in place for responsible journalistic practice in the country.

Leader of the Coalition for Change (C4C), Hon. Saa Emerson Lamina, described the day as an epoch making event, aimed at guaranteeing free speech in the country. He said present and past Presidents of Sierra Leone have been very tolerant in discharging their duties, especially in relation to the laws.

He called on media practitioner to be very much responsible in the practice of their trade, as well as the private sector to invest hugely in the media now that the draconian law is no more.

He commended present and past presidents of SLAJ for making frantic efforts to have the law repealed and thanked President Bio for delivering on his campaign promise to the media.

Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Chernor R.M. Bah said the two Bills were passed by the present Parliament and that it should not be politicized. He also thanked President Bio and others for repealing the infamous POA of 1965. He commended the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray, Chairman of the Legislative Committee, Speaker, and Members of Parliament for their dedication and support towards the repeal process.

Leader of Government Business, Hon. Mathew Nyuma said: “We came, we saw and we have conquered. This is a moment for the nation to celebrate.” He recalled how President Bio was maligned and tortured with calumny of hate by the media, but still has the courage to repealed the law because he (President Bio) want to guarantee press freedom.

Past presidents of Sierra Leone promised to repeal the law but failed to do so even though they had promised while campaigning for the country’s highest office.

The 1965 Public Order Amendment Act was first tabled in parliament in November 2019 after the approval of Cabinet for repeal. Unfortunately, the law was withdrawn from parliament earlier this because it has over stayed it time in the house without any action taken on it.

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has been at the forefront of the campaign, spanning over two decades to have the draconian law repealed.

SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla welcomed the repealed of the laws, describing it as a historic moment in the democratic dispensation of Sierra Leone.

“Today we collective fine ourselves on the right side of history. We have made a beautiful history, a history that will forever told from generation to generation. A history of men and women who stood up to uphold the basic tenet of human rights and democracy- freedom of expression,” he said.

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