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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More