As Criminal Libel Law set to become history...
MPs Back President Bio's Vision
By: Amara Alpha
Strategic Communications Unit, Ministry of Information and Communications
Law Makers belonging to the various political parties in Parliament including the governing Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), the main opposition All People's Congress (APC), Coalition for Change (C4C), National Grand Coalition (NGC), Independent and Paramount Chief MPs, all gave their unflinching support to the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law in the well of Parliament on Thursday 16th July, 2020.
During the second reading of the bill entitled 'The Public Order 1965 Amendment Act 2020' the Honourable Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, underscored that President Bio's commitment towards repeal of Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act which criminalizes libel is in the interest of journalists in the country.
Making his case to the parliamentarians, he said: "I'm here today to help fulfill the President's commitment. Because of the existence of the criminal libel law, the media has not been able to attract much needed investment into the sector for fear of being jailed for libel. This government remains committed to dicriminalizing libel because we want to see investment in the media so that journalists will be paid salaries and also to enhance quality practice of their profession. We will repeal the criminal libel law in order for our country to join other progressive nations like Liberia who did it in 2017 and Ghana in 2001. Our MPs should consider this bill among several other things. I know there are concerns about giving freedom without responsibility and safeguards. There are a lot of safeguards to ensure that journalists do their job professionally. We have the Civil Defamation Laws, the Bankruptcy Act and also review of the Independent Media Commission Code of Conduct. We note that it takes many years to build a good reputation. We acknowledge the work of previous leaders which is why we are staunchly committed to this process. I will like Members of Parliament to see reason based on what I have explained and enact this bill into law."
Contributing to the debate, Hon. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkela, the Leader of NGC, had this to say: "We the members of NGC are in support of repeal of the criminal libel law. We are supportive of freedom of speech and we commend the Hon. Minister of Information and Communications, the government, and Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo for presenting the genesis and clear testimony as to how this Act has been abused by various governments. Indeed we are in support of the bill and when we come to the IMC Act we will know the safeguards that can protect us.
I thank Minister Mohamed Rahman Swaray and the government for doing the right thing at the right time."
Hon. Sahr E Lamina, the Leader of C4C, stated his party's position on the issue thus: "The membership of C4C are in support of repealing the criminal libel law. Presidents come and gone promised to make this necessary amendment but did not. That is why I want to appreciate His Excellency the President Dr Julius Maada Bio for fulfilling his promise and also thank the previous and current SLAJ Presidents for a job well done.
C4C is appealing to journalists to be more mature in their practice. I thank the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, for his tireless efforts towards repeal of the criminal libel law."
Hon Chernor Maju Bah, Leader of the main opposition APC, stated: "We commend the Minister of Information and Communications for achieving his goal of repealing the criminsl libel law. we are also commending the past Presidents of SLAJ in the persons of Umaru Fofanah, Alhaji IB Kargbo and Kelvin Lewis for their relentless efforts towards expunging the criminal libel law from our law books even though they didn't succeed during their tenure in office and now the current President of SLAJ will take the credit for it. Thanks to the late President Dr Ahmed Tejan Kabba for the efforts he made to bring the IMC into being. Special thanks to His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio for his development strides in the country. We are in support of repealing the criminal libel law."
Hon. Mathew Nyuma, the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, noted: Section 78 and 79 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report recommend that the criminal aspect of expression be removed. Civil laws which guard against damaging publications and other defamatory materials and actions are sufficient protection.
All about the New Direction is changing bad narratives. Thanks to President Bio for taking us to this historic stage.
We are not creating the platform for politics, but to make history that will see decent journalism practiced in Sierra Leone. We are going to treat the IMC Code of Conduct and the repeal as twins. So join us to make history and not to destroy history. We are doing it in the interest of all Sierra Leoneans. Thanks to all colleague Members of Parliament for the fruitful deliberations on the two Acts
that will be sent to the Legislative Committee for final scrutiny."