Is Sierra Leone’s President using his assistant to intimidate citizens?


Below is a release from the International Press Institute on recent threats to press freedom made by the Special Executive Assistant to the President of Sierra Leone. We believe that these threats should be taken very seriously by the people of Sierra Leone, and governments that support the current government. Since Sylvia Blyden is a special appointee of the President we can only assume that what Sylvia says is what the President has asked her to say. Sylvia Blyden has called for “media sanitisation” which we are taking to mean that she wants to destroy,  and purge out those journalists who do not write propaganda. Fear and intimidation are not what we expect for a democratically elected government. If Sylvia Blyden is not speaking on behalf of the President of Sierra Leone then her position should be terminated ASAP. Sylvia Blyden is a threat to citizen and press freedom.

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VIENNA June 13, 2013—The International Press Institute (IPI) expressed serious concern today over the future of press freedom in Sierra Leone following inflammatory statements made by Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, special executive assistant to President Ernest Koroma. IPI urges political leaders in Sierra Leone to distance themselves from the threatening remarks made by Blyden, and to commit to protecting press freedom as required by the country’s constitution.

Upon returning to Sierra Leone Tuesday after an eight-day trip outside of the country, Blyden called on local journalists in Sierra Leone to “prepare for a massive and long overdue sanitisation” of the country’s media landscape.

She added: “It is now apparent that the Independent Media Commission has no intention of using the powers granted them to maintain sanity in the media and so we, as a government, are going to be left with no option but to save the country from sliding backwards at the hands of reckless media practitioners. The only solution is to apply Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965 and start charging errant persons to court for criminal and seditious libel”.

According to sections 26 and 27 the Public Order Act of 1965,  “any person who maliciously publishes any defamatory matter knowing the same to be false shall be guilty of an offence called libel and liable on conviction to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three years or to a fine not exceeding one thousand leones or both.

“Any person who maliciously publishes any defamatory matter shall be guilty of an offence called libel and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding seven hundred leones or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment,” the Act states.

Blyden’s comments were made in response to articles in what she called “opposition media” that accused the Koroma administration of tribal favouritism in selecting military commanders. Blyden said the articles were “aimed at inciting the country into turmoil.”

She also wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday that, “No politician or so-called journalist is going to be allowed to derail our national unity to serve their parochial objectives. WE WILL ASK FOR THE GREATEST POSSIBLE PENALTY TO BE APPLIED (i.e: we will ask for them to be convicted and jailed). Enough is enough.”

Discussing the recent Truth and Reconciliation Report on Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war, Blyden also threatened legal action against any journalist who portrayed the current (All People’s Congress) government as “working against South-Easterners.”

Last year, IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie visited Sierra Leone on a fact-finding mission prior to the country’s general election. In addition to asking high-ranking political leaders to respect the rights of the press, Bethel McKenzie encouraged editors and journalists to report on the elections and other sensitive topics in an independent and fair manner.

“Given Ms. Blyden’s position, we assume that these reckless comments represent the views of President Koroma, and we are disappointed that the president would engage in this serious and unacceptable intimidation of Sierra Leone’s media,”
Bethel McKenzie said today. “While it is important for the media in any country to practice basic journalism ethics, that does not mean that the press is required to endorse any particular point of view.”

She added: “Instead of threatening to employ outdated criminal defamation laws against journalists, the Sierra Leone government should endorse the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the abolition of such laws on the African continent.”
In 2010, Faith Pansy Tlakula, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights Special Repporteur for Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, leant her support to ending criminal defamation by signing a joint-statement, which recognized 10 challenges to freedom of expression in the next decade. The statement specifically pointed to criminal defamation laws as one of the biggest impediments to freedom of expression around the world.

  • issa

    that’s what they will say,some reckless journalism should not be encouraged.If we slide into tribal war or tribal animosity they will have nothing to say but to call us names.In as much as I disagree with any threat to peace loving journalists,any journalist that tries to incite tribal incitement should be punish hard.America themselves are currently chasing snowden who they think has derailed one of the mechanism that helps bring peace to their country.the vast majority of our people are illiterate so their reaction to such incitement might be uncontrollable.We saw what happened Rwanda and very recently in Kenya.We can’t keep on tolerating such arrant non sense in the name journalism.journalist should be responsible for their blunders.

  • We have enough laws on our statute books to deal with libel and slander.
    What we need are positive contributions which confront and deal with unpleasant issues, such as:-

    1. Unreliability of economic electricity supplies.
    2. Malaria.
    £. ETC.

  • Bailoh

    Sylvia Blyden is one unique human being. She spent years criticising the govt for the same thing (to her credit, she has always called for responsible journalism) but now in her new position, she is attacking journalists. Left to her own devices, she not only gets to eliminate free press in the country as far as others are concerned, she also gets to eliminate the competition as she is still the owner of a newspaper. Her true colors are showing again. She was the spokesperson for the RUF and ran the NINJA website that promoted them. She is evil and a danger to the country.

    I still can not understand how she ended up in her current Special Assistant position and I can’t not get that the president caved like this. What does she have over him. These are not the first reckless, threatening statements she has made. Mr. President, yes she is your spokesperson and she either needs to stop on your orders, or we draw the logical conclusion that these are your views as well.

  • yasmin

    I was really excited when Sylvia Blyden was appointed to the post of SEA..with very little knowledge of what the position entails. Since her appointment, we have seen her give orders to have people arrested and jailed without any trial, we have also seen her promote the government’s interest on social media as opposed to the interest of the country. I could care less about all the politics what is important to me and the masses is what’s being done to alleviate the current suffering that people are encountering. Unfortunately, she focuses on the opposition and issues that mean nothing to the majority of the people. The country does not need anyone that is going to not only be intimidating to the peace process, but also divisive. Her salary can be put to use in so many ways. Sierra Leone does not need a “wannabe” politician, a power tripper and a oppressor. She needs to resign or get fired.