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Publisher detained briefly, accused of "ridiculing" president

(MFWA/IFEX) - Silvia Blyden, publisher of "The Awareness Times", a privately-owned daily newspaper based in Freetown, was arrested and detained on 5 March 2008 by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the police in Sierra Leone for allegedly ridiculing President Ernest Bai Koroma.

The Media Foundation for West Africa's (MFWA) correspondent reported that Blyden was arrested around midday, following an order by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice on 4 March.

She was detained for several hours before being released later the same day.

Following her arrest, journalists and sympathizers of the publisher thronged the police station wielding placards calling for respect for press freedom as well Blyden's immediate release.

In its 29 February edition, "The Awareness Times" caricatured President Koroma's photograph with horns. This, according to the acting Director of the CID, Amara Sesay, was a mockery of the president.

Meanwhile, President Koroma has distanced himself from the arrest. He was quoted in "The Awareness Times" 6 March edition as saying that "he did not complain to anyone, let alone go to the extent of ordering her arrest over the publication".

A police source has hinted that the journalist will be formally charged with the offence of "ridiculing the President" under the Public Order Act of 1965, which is currently being challenged jointly by MFWA, The Open Society Justice Initiative and Society for Democratic Initiatives at the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone.

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