News / Africa

Sierra Leone Media Criticized for Rape Case Reporting

A man checks headlines of Sierra Leonean newspapers in Freetown. File photo.
A man checks headlines of Sierra Leonean newspapers in Freetown. File photo.
Women's rights groups in Sierra Leone are raising concerns about how the media is treating a 24-year-old university student who has accused the deputy education minister of rape.  The minister in question, Mamoud Tarawalie, was fired earlier this month after the rape charges were filed against him.  Groups are concerned that media coverage of this case will discourage other alleged victims from stepping forward in the future.
 
Ahmed Sahid Nasralla is the managing director for African Young Voices, a local radio station and newspaper in Freetown that has covered the rape case.
 
Nasralla has published photos of the alleged victim, an act some criticize but one he defends.
 
"In one of the photos, she was wounded on her lip and that one we showed.  And we distorted her eyes so you would not recognize her, but we tried to show areas where she got injured just so the public would know," explained Nasralla.
 
The director insists he took all necessary precautions to protect her identity.
 
Other local media outlets printed and broadcast the alleged victim's name and published a clear photo of her.  Some have accused her of lying.
 
An organization called LAWYERS, which stands for "Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equal Rights and Social Justice,” has cried foul.
 
The group says section 41 of the Sexual Offences Act of 2012 makes it an offense for anyone to publish or make public information about a rape victim.
 
Simitie Lavaly, the president of LAWYERS, says media actions in this case will reverse the gains for rape victims that have already been made.
 
"It will stop any other woman who has suffered this in silence and maybe not having the same publicity because it is not a minister or someone in public office.  It will stop them from coming forward and we feel that is wrong," said Lavaly.
 
One reason the sexual offense act was enacted last year was to offer better protection for victims to encourage them to come forward.
 
Often, rape cases go unreported because victims are afraid there will be repercussions from the perpetrators or they will be publicly shamed.  The issue is still very taboo and most times victims do not come forward for fear of being blamed for what happened to them.  Sometimes, their own family members do not believe them.
 
The act also stiffened penalties as a deterrent.  Prior to the law, the maximum penalty for rape was two years in prison, and perpetrators would often settle out of court.  Now, convicted rapists can be sentence to prison for up to 15 years and out of court settlements are not allowed.
 
Lavaly adds that both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator have rights to safety and privacy.
 
"We want protection for victims and also for the accused person to have his constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty," said Lavaly.
 
LAWYERS has lodged a formal complaint to the Independent Media Commission of Sierra Leone, also known as IMC.
 
Augustine Garmoh, a commissioner with the IMC, says the complaint is being addressed seriously and editors of media outlets who identified the alleged victim are being called to meet with the commission.
 
"The press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish any material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and by law they are free to do so," said Garmoh.
 
He says consent of the rape victim is irrelevant under the law and editors found in violation could face penalties including fines and being required to issue a formal apology to the victim.
 
As for the former deputy minister charged in this case, government officials say he was fired from his duties because the allegations are so serious that he cannot carry out his duties while an investigation is underway.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs