Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone journalists welcome end to libel law

Man reading a newspaper
Campaigners said the criminal libel law was used to stifle the press

The International Federation of Journalists has called the repealing of Sierra Leone's criminal libel law "a great victory for freedom of information".

The law, which meant people could be jailed for libellous statements, was repealed on 23 July.

Before that, people could be jailed for up to three years, whether or not what they wrote was true.

That's because the law did not allow truth as a defence, unless you can prove that publishing the truth is in the public interest.

Campaigners have been arguing for more than a decade for the law to be repealed.

Among their complaints was that it was actually used to gag journalists and repress independent and opposition voices.

President Bio launches special court to fight rape

Azeezat Olaoluwa

Women’s Affairs Journalist, BBC News, Lagos

Julius Maada Bio
President Bio declared a state of emergency on rape in 2019

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has launched the country’s first special court to combat rising cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

Mr Bio declared a state of emergency on rape in February 2019.

Work started on Monday at the Sexual Offences Model Court and the coming days are expected to be busy, Manty Tarawalli, Minister of Gender and Children Affairs, told BBC News.

The minister said the court will log reported rape cases in the court register.

The government had earlier this month unveiled six sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) support centres across the country.

Their work is to help survivors and also assist the police in gathering evidence.

A toll-free 24-hour hotline was also set up in April to encourage victims to seek help.

According to Rainbow Initiative, one of the leading institutions providing services to survivors of SGBV in Sierra Leone, they recorded 1,272 sexual assault incidents between January and May 2020.

Daniel Kettor of the Rainbow Initiative told BBC that with the special court hearings of rape cases would no longer be delayed.

For now, the Sexual Offences Model Court will be working six days a week at the Law Court building in the capital, Freetown.

"Similar courts will soon be established across the country soon, but for now the one just launched will serve the country.’’ Minister Monty told BBC News.

Sierra Leone deadly protest over power generator

Will Ross

Africa editor, BBC World Service

Officials in Sierra Leone say at least four people were killed and 10 others wounded when police opened fire on protesters in the northern town of Makeni.

Hundreds had gathered on Saturday to try to block the relocation of a power generator to Sierra Leone's international airport, fearing it would jeopardise the area’s electricity supply.

Witnesses said the protesters attacked the local party offices of President Julius Maada Bio.

Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio attends at the fifty-sixth ordinary session of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja on December 21, 2019
Getty Images
The president has been in office since 2018

A night-time curfew has been imposed on the town of more than 11,000 inhabitants.

Sierra Leone's energy ministry said Makeni's power supply was secure, blaming the unrest on what it called ill-motivated youths.

Strike leaves Sierra Leone Covid patients 'without care'

Empty street in Sierra Leone
Getty Images
Sierra Leone has recorded nearly 1,500 coronavirus cases

A doctors' strike in Sierra Leone has left Covid-19 patients in some of the main treatment centres without care.

The doctors say they were promised hazard pay for their work during the outbreak, which has not yet been paid.

The strike marks an escalation in a row between doctors and government over what doctors say is a misuse of funds for the coronavirus response and a lack of protection and compensation for health workers.

“No patient showing Covid-like symptoms will be treated by any doctor until we have the support we need,” said S K Jusu, the head doctor at Fourah Bay College, a school whose dormitories have been transformed into the country’s largest Covid-19 treatment centre on a hill overlooking the capital Freetown.

Sierra Leone, which is among the world's poorest countries, has recorded nearly 1,500 coronavirus cases with 60 deaths. Of the virus cases, 160 have been health workers.

The former British colony was hard hit by the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, during which nearly 4,000 people, including 250 medical workers died.

'End impunity for rapists in Sierra Leone'

The human rights campaign group Amnesty International has called for the end of impunity for rapists in Sierra Leone after the death of a five-year-old girl.

The girl, known just as Khadija, died on 17 June from complications after she was raped.

Subsequently hundreds of protesters took to the streets to demand justice.

The BBC's Umaru Fofana reports that protesters dressed in black headed to the attorney general's office, the police headquarters and outside the office of the director of public prosecutions in the capital, Freetown.

The head of Kids Advocacy Network, Edmond Fona, told the BBC that one of the demands of the protesters was that the country set up an adequate forensics lab to help with gathering evidence in rape cases.

Listen to Focus on Africa's report from the scene of the protest:

Using megaphones to fight virus rumours in Sierra Leone

BBC Focus on Africa radio

Megaphones are being used by a group of volunteers in Sierra Leone to inform a fishing community about the dangers of coronavirus.

The Portee Corona Response Unit also goes door-to-door to speak to people about prevention measures.

Christopher Jones, the group’s organiser, says the volunteers ran a similar project during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

He told BBC Focus on Africa's Bola Mosuro that Portee area of the capital, Freetown, was a disadvantaged community – so face-to-face interaction is the best way to help dispel rumours.

“We speak in Krio, we speak in Temne, we speak in Mende, we speak in Fula for them to understand that what we are saying is real," he said.

Listen to the full interview:

The Portee Corona Reponse Unit runs a number of activities

'Being a black man in the US is very difficult'

BBC Sport Africa

Kei Kamara
Getty Images
Kei Kamara plays for MLS side Colorado Rapids

Sierra Leone's US-based striker Kei Kamara, who joined in the protests this week following the death of George Floyd, says his children and their futures inspired him to make a stance.

Widespread protests have taken place across cities in the United States and globally since Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after being pinned down by a white police officer.

Kamara, who plays for MLS club Colorado Rapids, says he was moved by the action of his children who joined him at the protests.

"I lay down on the ground for nine minutes and my son actually then just lay down next to me, without me even asking him, and Kendrick is only three," Kamara, 35, told Newsday on the BBC World Service.

"He just decided to lay next to me. And I turned around and I saw him and it just hit me so hard, like wow."

Kamara, who shared his experience of the protests on social media, says the impact of Floyd's death is far-reaching.

"It's different because Floyd's one has definitely woken the whole world - different races, different people from different backgrounds are really standing up with us, the black people, now."

"Being a black man in America, or around the world being a footballer, a soccer player, it's been very difficult," the former Norwich City and Middlesbrough forward said of his experiences with racism.

"It's something that sometimes we try to turn a blind eye to, but I'm so, so grateful to every other race that's standing with us now because it's given us a voice."

Read the full story here.