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WAN welcomes government's announcement that it will decriminalise libel

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a WAN press release:

His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma
Freetown, Sierra Leone

15 February 2008

Your Excellency,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to welcome your government's announcement that it will decriminalise libel in Sierra Leone.

According to reports, on 9 February Justice Minister Abdul Serry-Kamal announced that the Law Reform Commission is to start work on repealing the country's criminal libel laws. Vice President Samuel Sam Soumana has reportedly asked the commission "to expunge all laws dealing with freedom of expression including the 1965 Public Order Act which makes libel a criminal offence".

Several journalists have been jailed in recent years under the Public Order Act, including Paul Kamara, editor of the daily For Di People, who was repeatedly detained after reporting on alleged misconduct by public officials in 2004. Last year, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists' president Phillip Neville was jailed under the 1965 Act for criticizing government officials.

We commend your government's initiative, particularly in light of the Declaration of Table Mountain, which was issued by our organisations meeting at the 60th World Newspaper Congress and 14th World Editors Forum Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, from 3 to 6 June 2007. The Declaration calls for the abolition of "insult'" and criminal defamation laws in Africa as a matter of urgency and we warmly welcome the beginning of this process in Sierra Leone.

We respectfully call on you to do everything in your power to ensure that the process to abolish criminal libel that has begun is quickly and successfully concluded, and that in future your country fully upholds international standards of freedom of expression.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin O'Reilly
World Association of Newspapers

George Brock
World Editors Forum

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