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From the October 2000 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 47, No. 10)

Journalism in Sierra Leone

Defending Press Freedom

Paul Kamara, Freetown, Sierra Leone

For di People was established as an independent newspaper in 1983. This was a period when the then APC (All-People’s Congress) monolithic system had created a culture of silence, and not many journalists or newspapers were bold enough to stand up for the truth and defend press freedom and political and social justice. Throughout its existence, critics both within and outside Sierra Leone have rated For di People as a consistent, fearless, and courageous newspaper.

Perhaps this is because For di People answers to no party but to the people. Its consistent crusade against corruption and other societal ills is no secret, and it has always been in the forefront for the promotion of freedom and human rights in Sierra Leone. It has, therefore, paid dearly for it. Paul Kamara, the newspaper’s editor, and other senior members have been detained several times by successive regimes for exposing corruption and human-rights violations, and Kamara has been subjected to several forms of brutality.

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Press freedom under the government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is far more favorable than in previous regimes, despite a few unsuccessful attempts to pass laws intended to stifle the press. For di People staff have so far had virtually no brushes with the law during this period, despite a few uncalled-for invitations to the police as a result of stories carried in the paper, especially those exposing official corruption in government places.

But one method by which the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) has tried to control or indirectly force some papers out of publication is through the income tax department. Independent papers were asked to pay huge income taxes, but these amounts were determined without examining the books of the affected papers or interviewing their staff. For di People is one of the hardest-hit newspapers in this ploy, as it was asked to pay millions of leones in tax even for periods when it was not in circulation. Petitions sent to both the Ministry of Information and the income tax department were never considered, since the intention is to get those who could not pay out of business.

Government officials have also frequently accused For di People editors of being rebel collaborators each time the paper exposed corruption in high places. In Sierra Leone today, being accused publicly of collaborating with the rebels, whether true or false, is tantamount to a death sentence, especially when it comes from senior members of government. The significant point here is that almost every major corruption scandal in the government has been exposed by For di People.

—Kamara is editor and proprietor of For di People and chairman of the National League for Human Rights

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