Thursday, June 13, 2013

Veteran Sierra Leone Journalist and International Press Institute React to Threats against Journalists.

Presidential Special Assistant
Journalists in Sierra Leone are reacting angrily to incendiary statements and threats of incarceration issued by the corrosive Special Assistant to the President Sylvia Blyden, who earlier this week embarked on a campaign of intimidation of journalists, apparently with the backing of State House.

Buoyed by a recent overseas trip with the president, the chronic attention seeker turned presidential confidante immediately made her presence known by stating that when she had been out of the country journalists had been accusing the government of regionalism for the selected termination from the military of a group of officers well below their retirement age. She bragged that now that she was back in the country, she was going to undertake what she described as "a long overdue sanitizing of the media in the country." Given the historical use of the term sanitizing in human history, a term used by Germans against the Jews during the holocaust, many in the media community have  reacted to the incendiary statement  with consternation and outrage.
SLAJ President Lewis

Given the reckless nature of the threats emanating from State House in a country still recovering from a decade long civil war, the International Press Institute was quick to condemn the statements by the President's special assistant, who is now the leading spokesperson for the government of Sierra Leone. Reacting to the threats against journalists in the country, the Executive Director of the International press Institute Alison Bethel Mckenzie issued the following statements "Given Ms. Blyden’s position, we assume that these reckless comments represent the views of President Koroma, and we are disappointed that the president would engage in this serious and unacceptable intimidation of Sierra Leone’s media. Ms. Mckenzie further stated that while it was important for journalists to practice the basic ethics of their profession, it did not mean that they were obliged to endorse any particular view point.

IPI ED Mackenzie
Speaking from Vienna Ms. Mckenzie who had visited Sierra Leone in 2012 before the country's elections also added that "Instead of threatening to employ outdated criminal defamation laws against journalists, the Sierra Leone government should endorse the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the abolition of such laws on the African continent.”  

What is very troubling about the negative developments in Sierra Leone is that the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists who Sylvia has had a tumultuous relationship with, had been working with the government to outlaw the outdated criminal and seditious libel law in the country and it seems that Sylvia's growing negative influence on the president that has made many veteran party members uneasy, is threatening to turn back the the clock on press freedom in the country. 
Veteran Journalist George Khoryama

Veteran Sierra Leone journalist George Khoryama of the Sierra Leone local publication global times also came out very forcefully against Sylvia Blyden's unnecessary and wholly unwarranted ratcheting of tensions in the country. Ghoryama opined that since Ms. Blyden was appointed to the ill defined and redundant position of Special Assistant to a president who already has so many advisers, she has grown increasingly hysterical, rude, wrathful and outrageous, with vanity bothering on the verge of psychosis. He promised that the country's media will not succumb to threats from State House, but that they will fight Sylvia with everything at their disposal, secure in the knowledge that the president was not anti-media. He accused Sylvia of being in haste to make amends with a president she had publicly ridiculed for years.

Upon assumption of the role of Special Assistant to the president, Syvia had bragged that she had informed the president before her appointment that she will not be controlled and the president had promised her that she was free to operate as she pleased. If these constant threats against opposition functionaries and the media is the future of the Koroma presidency, then Sierra Leone is headed for a period of uncertainty and volatility, as the office of the presidency becomes a tool for Sylvia to use in her malicious vendetta against people whose view of the world do not coincide with hers. 

In recent weeks Sylvia has used her new position to call for the jailing of opposition leaders Maada Bio and Charles Margai and has now added journalists who are not on the government praise singing team into the mix. These threats and public outbursts are threatening to overshadow President Koroma's second term, as journalists and bloggers alike are determined to ensure that Sierra Leone's hard won democracy will not be derailed by a curtailment of press freedoms in the country. 

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