|Judge Advocate Otto During|
The Sierra Leonean Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Frankly Bai Kargbo on August 12, 2014, ordered the release of a female journalist who was serving a seven day sentence for contempt.
Aminata Phidelia Allie, a journalist of privately-owned biweekly Politico newspaper was on August 11, given a seven day sentence by a Court Martial for contempt of court.
The charge of contempt stems from a feature article authored by Allie titled "Court Martial Losing Momentum" and published on August 6. The journalist in the article inferred inter alia that the trial of some 14 soldiers accused of mutiny was being delayed by the court and blamed the Judge Advocate, Otto During for failure to expedite the trial. The publication also alleged that the court lacks sufficient evidence against the accused persons.
The MFWA's correspondent in the country reported that the state prosecutor, Gerald Soyie made an application at the Court Martial on August 8, for the editorial team of the newspaper to appear before the Court on August 11, to answer to a contempt charge.
The Judge Advocate, Otto During, discharged the editor-in-chief, Umaru Fofana, the associate editor Isaac Massaquoi, and sub-editor Joseph Lamin Kamara, with instructions that a retraction and an apology be made in three subsequent editions of the newspaper and copies served to the court.
Allie was however handed a seven day sentence. She was released on August 12, following the order of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Frankly Bai Kargbo.
Meanwhile the newspaper on August 12, published an apology to the Court Martial. The newspaper among other things said "we tender our unreserved apology to the entire Court Martial for whatever inconvenience the said publication might have caused them. We admit that mistakes were made in the offending article--which we hereby retract--which may have impugned the prestige and standing of the Judge Advocate, the President and panel, the prosecution and the defence in the ongoing matter involving some soldiers. If we had a second chance to consider the said article for publication, we would not put it out. Once again we are profoundly sorry for the embarrassment."
The MFWA commends the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Frankly Bai Kargbo for his intervention that saw the release of the journalist. We however appeal to journalists to be professional in their work.What's wrong with this scenario? The contempt conviction, the overriding of a judgment of contempt by the attorney general, the newspaper's apology, the selective prosecution, or all of the foregoing?