CPJ Protests Arrest of BBC correspondents in Sierra Leone

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December 9, 1998

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
State House
Freetown, Sierra Leone

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) writes to strongly protest the December 8, 1998, arrest of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondents Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, Sulaiman Momodu, who is also a reporter with the independent Concord Times, and Sylvester Rogers. The journalists have been charged with "false reporting" and "reporting news on the war without clearing their stories in advance with the West African Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG)."

Two plainclothes officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Ojukutu-Macaulay at the Sierra Leone Telecommunications Center in Freetown. He was taken to the CID headquarters, where he is currently being held in the same cell as detainees for criminal offenses. Information Minister Julius Spencer ordered the arrest following Ojukutu-Macaulay's December 8, 1998, report that 8,000 refugees, fleeing heavy fighting, were headed toward Freetown on the highway from the northern part of the interior. Plainclothes CID officers arrested Momodu at his residence in Freetown and transported him to CID headquarters, where he is currently being held in the same conditions as Ojukutu-Macaulay. Rogers was arrested following the journalist's December 8 report that a soldier of the West African Peacekeeping Forces (ECOMOG) had been killed by rebels. It is believed that the journalist is being held in Makeni because fighting between ECOMOG and rebel forces has reportedly cut off roads to Freetown.

CPJ believes these arrests are aimed at controlling news coverage of the on-going conflict in the country. Furthermore, CPJ strongly protests the official statement broadcast today on state radio which described the journalists' actions as "unpatriotic behavior and a criminal act which is tantamount to acting as a propagandist for the rebels." In the current climate in Sierra Leone, labeling journalists as rebel propagandists when a disagreement arises between the government and media professionals places all journalists in danger and could have severe repercussions on the profession..

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ strongly protests the arrest and detention of Ojukutu-Macaulay, Momodu, and Rogers. These incidents constitute a violation of journalists' right to report the news, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, to all of which, we respectfully remind Your Excellency, Sierra Leone is a signatory.

We strongly urge Your Excellency to immediately and unconditionally release Ojukutu-Macaulay, Momodu, and Rogers, and to ensure the right of journalists toreport the news freely and safely.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director



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President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
State House
Freetown, Sierra Leone
VIA FAX: 232-22-225-615