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Editor detained briefly, released on bail

(MFWA/IFEX) - Jonathan Leigh, managing editor of the "Independent Observer", a Freetown-based newspaper, was arrested and briefly detained in a police cell on 15 February 2008, for allegedly defaming Minister of Transport and Aviation Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay. The journalist was detained following a court order.

A Freetown magistrates' court issued a warrant for the journalist's arrest after he failed to appear before it to answer a charge of defamation of the minister.

In an article published in early February, entitled "Minister builds two mansions in two months", the newspaper alleged that the minister was using his office to acquire property. The article, written by Leigh, said Sesay had had two homes built within two months as a minister of state.

Despite being sick the journalist was held for about four hours against the plea of his counsel. However, a High Court ruling allowed him to be released on bail of US$13,500.

The magistrates' court initially denied the bail on grounds that the journalist's medical report was questionable.

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ) condemned the arrest of the journalist.

MFWA regrets that this arrest comes at a time when the new government of Sierra Leone has expressed its intention to repeal the obnoxious Public Order Act, which contains sections that provide for long jail terms for defamation (see IFEX alert of 15 February 2008).

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