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Government threatens criminal prosecution of newspaper over articles critical of president

(MFWA/IFEX) - On 6 May 2008, the press secretary to State House, Sheka Tarawally, threatened "New Vision", an independent Freetown-based newspaper, with legal action if the newspaper failed to retract three articles it published accusing President Ernest Bai Koroma of being wasteful.

MFWA's correspondent reported that Tarawally lodged a formal complaint with the Independent Media Commission (IMC), Sierra Leone's media regulatory body, calling on it to urge "New Vision" to retract the articles within three days or face legal action.

The first article, published on 2 May, accused Koroma of spending US$102 million on unnecessary trips. On 5 and 6 May, the newspaper again published articles repeating the allegations and stating that "New Vision" stood by the reports.

In his complaint, the press secretary claimed that there had been no attempts by "New Vision" to cross-check the information, and the story should therefore be regarded as "malicious and calculated to damage the image of the President".

Tarawally also stated that "all the insinuations in the offending articles are false" and concluded that "New Vision" had violated sections of the 1965 Public Order Act.

The IMC is a media regulatory body that has no judicial powers, but provides a platform for negotiations between aggrieved persons and media outlets to reduce the use of law courts to settle media-related cases.

MFWA regrets that such threats come at a time when the new government of Sierra Leone has expressed its intention to repeal sections of the obnoxious and archaic Public Order Act, which authorise jail terms of up to seven years for those who criticise government officials.

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