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Criminal charges against newspaper editor dropped

(MFWA/IFEX) - On 21 August 2007, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Fred Carew, discontinued criminal proceedings against Philip Neville, editor of the "Standard Times", a privately-owned Freetown-based daily newspaper.

A MFWA correspondent reported that President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah ordered the trial to be discontinued after the newspaper had fulfilled a number of conditions laid down by the prosecution.

The correspondent said the "Standard Times" retracted the story and subsequently published the retraction in five editions. It also published it on the Internet. Neville was made to read the retraction in court.

In its 27 June edition, the "Standard Times" alleged that Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, the Libyan president, exposed the Sierra Leonean government by announcing at a rally that he had donated money and food items to the Sierra Leonean people. The article headlined "BOMBSHELL, Col. Ghaddafi Exposes Government" said Sierra Leoneans felt disappointed because the government had not informed them of the gesture.

The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Sierra Leonean police arrested Neville on 28 June and charged him the following day with two counts of "false publication" likely to harm the credibility of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and the government of Sierra Leone.

Neville was charged under Section 32, sub sections 2 and 3, of the Public Order Act of 1965, which make publishing any false statement, rumour or report likely to harm the reputation of government officials a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment not exceeding 12 months, or both.

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