Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has repealed The Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, a 55-year-old libel law that has been used by successive governments to jail journalists.
Among other things, truth did not serve as a defence under the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, which also allowed for pre-trial detention.
Journalists in Sierra Leone have called it “a watershed moment” or even “Liberation Day”.
“We have to make progress in this country. We have decided to be a democratic society. You cannot have a vibrant democracy without journalism that is unfettered.
“For a very long time, we know what has been happening in this country. To have a healthy democracy means you have to have journalists to feel free to go about their own profession.
“Of course, that poses some problems but that is part of the democratic environment that we have to live in,” the BBC quoted President Bio as saying after the signing ceremony at the State House.
Asked if he doesn’t have any reservation, any ifs and buts, that some journalists might go for the kill? President Bio said, “Well we have some feel safe mechanisms built in our system, we have the IMC and the new Act [IMC Act of 2020], and we also…you have an organisation that is regulating and monitoring how you go about your profession.
“We should not be afraid of these things because most of the fear is actually unfounded. You do have some few bad people who would want to do otherwise, but I think there are a lot of safe mechanisms within the system to actually check these people.
“So, I can understand the fear of the society, the Sierra Leone people, including myself. But until we try we are not going to know what the challenges are going to be and how we can surmount those challenges.
“There are going to be problems but think we should as a country be strong enough to tackle those as and when they appear.”
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