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The law, which meant people could be jailed for libellous statements, was repealed on 23 July.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Campaigners have been arguing for more than a decade for the law to be repealed.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.