The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, has repealed the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, a 55-year-old libel law that has been used by successive governments to jail journalists.
The ceremony to sign the decision took place at the State House. On the occasion, the President declared that;
“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.”
Journalists in Sierra Leone have called it “a watershed moment” or even “Liberation Day”.
President Julius Maada Bio, responding to questions from some journalists on if he doesn’t have any reservation or fears that some journalists might go for the kill, 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 journalists have an organization that is regulating and monitoring how they go about their 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.” He added.
To the President, the changes may give rise to some problems but that is part of the democratic environment that the people have to live in
“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.” PRESIDENT Bio said.
Among other things, truth did not serve as a defense under the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, which also allowed for pre-trial detention.