By Yusif Moigua
While other African nations are busy working round the clock to get their people out of the demonic COVID-19 global pandemic, authorities in Sierra Leone have continued to clamp down on journalists who express critical views on gross human rights violations by government through the Sierra Leone Police and mostly the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
Criticisms directed towards regulating the odd undemocratic behaviours of ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and president Julius Maada Bio’s unconstitutional handling of governance issues have met with severe highhandedness by poorly trained and unprofessional Sierra Leone Police who ‘captured’ and ‘kidnapped’ Publisher of Awareness Times newspaper, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden on Friday 1st May, 2020 from her Cockle Bay residence in the West of Freetown.
Dr Blyden is a prolific female journalist and an active member of the main opposition, All People’s Congress (APC) who met her manhandling in the hands of armed Police and military personnel on order from State House and took her to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for her critical publication in her Awareness Times newspaper and postings on social media.
She is being held in detention with hundreds of male prisoners brought to the CID from the Pa Demba Road Correctional facility. But the Police could hardly explain to her why she was arrested and detained.
The Police are still searching her phones and personal laptop computer for evidence to further implicate her after series of intimidation aimed at shutting down her media institution and trampling upon her freedom of expression.
Dr Blyden’s arrest and detention came after mass killing of dozens of prison inmates and guards at the Pa Demba Road Central Correctional Facility in Freetown.
Such situation now clearly shows that Sierra Leone is rapidly becoming one of the world’s worst places for journalists as media practitioners are always confronted with life threatening challenges from state authorities and security forces while in execution of their duties.
At the CID headquarters, the investigator with Dr Blyden says owing to the ‘seriousness of her matter’ she is still being investigated while she continues to suffer in detention in the hands of unprofessional Police. And her home is being subjected to unwarranted searches by the Police looking for evidence to prosecute her.
The situation is the same everywhere in the country from Freetown right across; journalists are being harassed, beaten and always forced to do their jobs as in tune with the dictates of the ruling party and the undemocratic government of President Bio. Failures to comply with state control of the media, you find yourself in trouble with the authorities, like state security personnel recently did to Fayia Amara Fayia when he was trying to cover COVID-19 cases in Kenema, the eastern Regional Headquarters in Sierra Leone.
This is a clear manifestation that there is indeed no press freedom in Sierra Leone, especially under the Bio-led SLPP political hegemony since journalists are always in trouble with government while doing their jobs. Harassments and intimidation of journalists have become the order of the day i.e., no place for journalists and journalism profession in the so-called democratic country.
The Awareness Times Publisher’s arrest and detention has brought in disturbing news to the media family and the entire journalism fraternity in Sierra Leone.
Calls for her release continue to occupy centre stage on social media discussion by Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad, friends of Sierra Leone, foreign diplomats, and civil society groups including the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists to whom the Police investigator has failed to offer reason.
As a matter of concern, Executive Director of Gender Rights’ Activist Organization, Joseph Amos Kodeyema, in a statement issued on Saturday 2nd May after the arrest of Dr Blyden, called on government for the unconditional release of the prominent female journalist.
Kodeyema expressed his utter disappointment with actions of the Bio government.
“We have few women venturing into politics and these few are also being assaulted and victimized,” the release states.
It also recalled the brutal gang rape of Satta Lamin to which government has so far failed to pay attention to.
Dr Sylvia Blyden, he continued, has been subjected to ‘humiliation and harassment for expressing her views on the abuse of a political prisoner, Rtd. Major Alfred Paolo Conteh’s human rights.
Her arrest, according to Rights Groups, is counterproductive to the popular call for the thirty per cent (30℅) quota representation politics and governance.
Kodeyema called on women’s and human rights organizations including Women in the Media Sierra Leone as well as the diplomatic community to join the loud call for the unconditional release of the female journalist, Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.
Also, concern about the unlawful arrest and detention of Dr Blyden has been expressed by SLAJ leadership in the persons of Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, national president and Mohamed Asmieu Bah, secretary-general, last Saturday, visited Dr Blyden at CID to know her status in detention and the nature of charges pressed against her although the Police refused to explain to them.
The SLAJ president said in his post on his Facebook wall that the investigator told them that they are still investigating Dr Blyden’s investigator, Alieu could not explain why Dr Blyden was arrested and detained without charges against her.
When they met her in her cell for about ten minutes, Dr Blyden told the SLAJ delegation that she was never arrested but ‘captured’ and ‘kidnapped’ by armed Police and military personnel from her residence.
“My mobile phones and personal laptop computer were taken away from me by Police in search of evidence,” she spoke from a congested cell at CID.
Dr Blyden however informed Mr Sahid Nasralla and Mr Bah that she spent nights in a female cell together with hard core criminals who were relocated from Pa Demba Road Correctional Centre to the CID.
What a gross human rights violations of a woman by the Bio government, the so-called father of democracy on the occasion of Press Freedom Day.
On the part of the main opposition, the All Peoples Congress, they have described the arrest and detention of Dr Blyden in a statement issued late Sunday 3rd May as ‘arbitrary’.
According the statement, some sections of the APC leadership were denied access to Dr Blyden when they went to see her at the CID headquarters.
Quite recently, any journalist who comment critically on the undemocratic manners in which president Bio and the SLPP regime are handling human rights issues, political freedom and gender equality concerns, will find him/herself in trouble with the powers that be like Fayia Amara Fayia who was recently violently beaten by armed military personnel of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
Like Dr Blyden in detention, Fayia now sits on a wheelchair and always wheeled to a medical facility in Kenema in response to medical treatment.
Similarly, he is making regular appearances in court in respect of a case against him for covering a COVID-19 incident.
However, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) has called on the government of president Bio to drop all charges against Fayia Amara Fayia and brought his abuser to book, but the government is yet to adhere to conditions put forward to them by CPJ.
Furthermore, except for SLAJ, and few other Rights Groups, no women’s rights organization has added their voices to call for the release of Dr Sylvia Blyden.
Even Women in the Media Sierra Leone, 50-50 Group, Women’s Forum, and Parliamentary Female Caucus including so many other women civic groups have remained silent on the arrest and detention of Dr Blyden as if she is not a woman.
Or are all these groups now on government pay rolls? Mind you, democracy dies in silence so speak up to liberate your compatriot from unlawful detention.
Is it because Dr Blyden does not belong to the ruling elites accounts for why vocal women’s activists have continued to be mute on her human rights violations by the government of president Bio?
Sober women of Sierra Leone: advocate for the unconditional release of your compatriot as she is a woman.
Irrespective of political, ideological differences, she deserves recognition and respect for her rights especially to be advocated for so that she could be released from detention.