By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Sierra Leone’s Parliament has made history by unanimously repealing the seditious libel laws in Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965 , an obnoxious law that criminalises free speech in the British Colonized Nation.
The House Passed the Public order (Amendment ) Act 2020 which repealed the fifty -five-year-old anti-press freedom legislation in the country , a promise , President Julius Maada Bio pledged in his Manifesto to do when he becomes president.
President Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said the repealing of the obnoxious law is a ‘Freedom Day’ not only for journalists but for all Sierra Leoneans in the country.
“ Thank you! thank you! Today (23rd July 2020) is Freedom Day not only for journalists but for all Sierra Leoneans. This is our collective victory and we must all be proud as this marks a new dawn for the Sierra Leone media,’’he said.
Ahmed Nasralla expressed thanks to President Julius Maada Bio and his entire Cabinet for living up to promise whilst of thanking the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray , her deputy Mamadi Gobeh Kamara and the entire team for piloting the obituary of Part 5 of the POA 1965.
“Thank you, Honourable Members of Parliament, we are most grateful for your support and the exceptional unity demonstrated throughout this process.Thank you to the International Community for your support,’’President Nasralla added , thus admonishing Colleagues, to whom much is given much is expected.
The SLAJ President further said freedom comes with great power and great power comes with great responsibility stating that as journalist celebrate let them bear in mind that they are starting a new journey to responsible, professional and patriotic practice.
“Personally, I give God the Glory .We will pay befitting tributes to our own and all those who supported us in this long journey when the final assent is given’’
On their part , Renaissance Movement, a social movement in the country in a statement heartily congratulated all those who fought, campaigned, advocated and worked for this truly momentous victory in the country thanking President Julius Maada Bio’s government and members of parliament, including opposition parties, deserve huge credit for working together to finally make this important milestone a reality.
“This is undoubtedly a great day for free speech, human rights and democracy in Sierra Leone. For 55 years, too many voices were silenced, too many of our compatriots and fellow activists were sent to prison, intimidated and haunted by this draconian law. We collectively heave a huge sigh of relief today as our country takes another giant step towards living up to its ideals of unity, freedom and justice” said Chernor Bah (Cee Bah) Chairperson of the Renaissance Movement. “As a Movement, we firmly believe that free speech and a free press are essential tenets for a democratic society. Therefore, we are proud to stand in solidarity with our compatriots in the Fourth Estate and all others who fought valiantly for this progress” Cee Bah added.
In a statement , the government said in keeping with the commitment , the President took a bold and courageous step to ensure cabinet approval for the repeal of the criminal libel law and thereafter tabled it in parliament through the Ministry of Information and Communications.
“The Parliament of Sierra Leone has today finally amended the Public Order Act of 1965 ) by repealing Part V of the law which deals with criminal libel and also enacted the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act 2020 . The IMC Act 2020 will enhance the professionalization of journalism and make investments in media more attractive ,’’a statement from the Ministry of Information said.
Minister of Information and Communications , Mohamed Rahman Swarray referred to the repeal as “ The bold decision by the Bio led government to repeal this legislation is a very promising step that changes the media landscape in Sierra Leone ,’’ Minister of Information Mohamed Rahman Swarray stated “We hope that practicing journalists will opt for media professionalism , work with the Independent Media Commission (IMC) to enhance its regulatory powers and give the Sierra Leone Association of journalists the civic and moral responsibility to institute self-regulatory systems for their members ,’’
Speaker of Parliament , Abass Bundu said ‘It is a milestone for the press freedom and a triumph for democracy and the rule of law ‘
Leader of government Business Mathew Nyuma said “ we are doing a repeal in the interest of good journalism and in the interest of good governance .
Today’s amendment of the Public Order Act is a fulfil of one the many promises that were highlighted in his Manifesto that promises the people of Sierra Leone a free press , a free quality education among others to citizens.