Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma is expected to sign into law a new Freedom of Information bill Thursday after it was approved by the country’s parliament.
Information and Communication Minister Alpha Kanu says the bill is in line with the government’s reforms to promote and reinforce democracy and good governance in the country.
The bill’s approval comes as Sierra Leone journalists on Tuesday imposed a news blackout in solidarity with two journalists jailed and charged with 26 counts of seditious and defamatory libel for criticizing President Koroma.
Kanu says the Freedom and Information Bill will make access to information in Sierra Leone easier.
“It is a bill which normally would be referred to as the Freedom of Information Bill, but it has been renamed as the Right to Access Information which gives anybody above the age of 15 years old, a citizen of Sierra Leone to demand or request any information from any public body or private body that does receive any funding from the consolidated fund for any information that is not confidential in nature,” he said.
Kanu said Sierra Leoneans are enjoying freedom of information, freedom of expression and freedom of association under the Koroma government in compliance with the tenets of our democracy.
Sierra Leone journalists on October 29th imposed a news blackout in solidarity with two journalists jailed and charged with 26 counts of seditious and defamatory libel for criticizing President Koroma.
Police arrested Jonathan Leigh, publisher of the Independent Observer and Bai Bai Sesay, editor of the same paper on Friday, October 25 and charged them under the 1965 Public Order Act.
It stipulates that any person who prints, publishes, sells, or distributes any publication deemed seditious can be fined and handed prison terms of up seven years.
In an October 17 opinion article entitled “Who is Molesting Who: The President or the VP?” the paper reportedly likened President Koroma to a rat and dictator.
Information and Communication Minister Kanu said the two journalists were arrested for printing and disseminating false information.
“Information is important, but you must give credible information. Nobody would have refused them information if they had asked for it. But what they did they fabricated information that were total lies contrary to all existing tenets of truth, and I know that’s why they are where they are at the moment. And in any country the laws must be obeyed. Seditious libel or criminal libel and malicious defamation of character are not some of the best practices for ethical journalism,” Kanu said.
In addition to Sierra Leone courts which Kanu described as working satisfactorily, the bill also sets up an “information commission” which has the powers to summon individuals who would refuse to make available public information that has been requested.