Sierra Leone may be on the verge of becoming one of a handful of African countries to decriminalise libel.
In 1965 the then military government made libel a criminal offence. Section V of the Public Order Act was so broadly worded that it could apply to any citizen and effectively made it an offence to criticise the government using language that could be deemed to undermine its authority.
The law has been used to arrest journalists who have printed something that offends but recently none of the cases have gone to court, with journalists usually being released after questioning. So the law is proving to be ineffective and is widely regarded as inappropriate for a country which otherwise enjoys an improving reputation as a democracy.
Although many politicians and journalists have criticised the law over the past 50 years, it remains on the statute book. Now both the Ministers of Justice and Information have voiced fresh concerns and the current President of Sierra Leone promised, when taking up office, to get rid of the law. Criticism has been unequivocal with the Ministry of Justice calling it “pernicious” and the Minister of Information saying it is a “bad law.”
With 18 months to go before fresh elections are due, the government is active on this issue and has received encouragement and support from the British and Irish governments and GMT Media.
Managing Director, GMT Media Ltd