|Dr. Julius Spencer|
News reports filtering in from Freetown indicate that one of the heroes of the civil resistance to the brief military Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) interregnum that almost derailed multiparty democracy in the late 90s in Sierra Leone, Dr. Julius Spencer, has been arrested in Freetown on allegations by Information Minister Alpha Kanu that the Premier News which is published by Spencer's Premier Media published an article which the authorities considered defamatory.
The exact circumstances of the case have yet to be revealed, but Dr. Spencer who is the Managing Director of Premier Media and Alusine Sesay the editor of Premier News had their offices raided earlier today by personnel of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) with the confiscation of multiple media equipment including computers and documents, all of which were taken to the CID. Both Spencer and Sesay are currently in detention at CID.
Dr. Spencer is a renowned arts lecturer at the country's premier university Fourah Bay College specializing in dramatic arts who was instrumental in setting up an anti-junta radio network during the AFRC interruption. After the AFRC/RUF junta forces were driven out of Freetown and democratic order reestablished, he was recognized for his role by ex-President Ahmed Tejan Kabba by being appointed the country's Information Minister.
Dr. Spencer and Alusine Sesay's arrest are just the latest in the current spate of media harassment and intimidation that has gripped Sierra Leone since President Koroma was reelected in 2012 vowing a crackdown on libelous media. In a policy which the government calls media sanitizing, the few independent journalists remaining in the country have been subject to threats, arrests, denial of bail, public humiliation and trumped up court charges, while those who write favorably about the government are awarded diplomatic press attache positions and given other incentives.
In the overzealous restriction on media freedoms in Sierra Leone, even those close to the powers that be are not being spared. This was the case in the recent arrest of radio propagandist David Tam-Baryoh, who was detained for seven hours just for texting the Transport and Aviation Minister seeking clarification about his complicity in rumors of a planned attack on his radio station, in an excessive display of third world authority.
As stated by the minister himself, David Tam Baryoh had been at the beck and call of the ruling party during the last elections in 2012. Recently however, he is seen as too close to the Vice President who has reportedly fallen out of the good favor of the country's President.
Sierra Leone is a country that went through a decade of civil war in the 90s followed by a smooth transition from military to civilian rule and a peaceful handover of power by a ruling party to the opposition at elections.
Recently viewed as a beacon of multiparty politics in an otherwise autocratic region, there are growing fears that President Ernest Bai Koroma is being influenced by his minions to hang on to power after his constitutional two-term limit is up, with the excuse that he has done so much for the country, in spite of an increased incidence of corruption, bribery, nepotism, tribalism and economic stagnation all in the face of increased exploitation of natural and mineral resources. The President and his Vice President are locked in a bitter political and personality clash that is being used by those close to the President to publicly humiliate his deputy.
The 1991 Sierra Leone constitution is currently under review, a process headed by a close ally of the President. Some months ago the results of two Parliamentary seats won by the opposition were annulled and the seats declared for the ruling party, giving the President control over both the executive and the legislative arms of government. With the control of these two organs of government and a judiciary that is traditionally allied to whatever government is in power, combined with undue influence over the constitutional review process, many Sierra Leoneans with a knowledge of the country's history see all the variables in place for the reemergence of one party dominance and the disruption of genuine democracy in the country.
Last year Dr. Spencer went to court to challenge the constitutionality of the country's notorious criminal and seditious libel laws which are regarded by many as negative vestiges of the country's past history. These laws are now used by the country's authorities with religious devotion.
As details of the arrest of Dr. Spencer become known we will keep you updated.