Sierra Leone: Chernoh publisher Alpha Bah threatened with death and accused of treason

Abuja — Sierra Leonean authorities must stop harassing the Africanist Press news site and its publisher, Chernoh Alpha Bah, and must investigate the death threats against it, the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights said on Tuesday. journalists.

On May 4, Sierra Leone’s Office of National Security (ONS), a federal security agency, filed a complaint with the Independent Media Commission, the country’s media regulator, according to a copy of the complaint published by Africanist Press and Bah, which spoke by phone with CPJ.

The complaint accuses the Africanist press of making “a deliberate attempt…to incite disaffection within the military”, which the ONS says could “cause unrest in the country”. The agency asked the commission to warn the news agency against “publications inciting incitement”.

The Africanist Press is a US-based news site that covers Sierra Leonean politics and “grassroots African perspectives” on current events, according to its website.

The ONS letter follows a May 3 African Press report, posted on Bah’s Facebook page, which has more than 14,000 followers, alleging that the salaries of 30 civil servants in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance could cover the monthly income of 1,747 Sierra Leonean soldiers, Bah told CPJ. .

“Sierra Leonean authorities should stop harassing the Africanist press and investigate death threats against its publisher, Chernoh Alpha Bah, instead of trying to censor it,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. from New York. “Allegations of treason and assertions that journalism threatens national peace are dangerous tools too often used by authorities against the press and can have a chilling effect on press freedom.”

The US-based Bah has also been the target of death threats and other threats sent via social media. On May 6, Bah received a death threat in a Facebook direct message from a user who accused him of trying to “distract the true citizens of Sierra Leone”, according to Bah and a screenshot of the message. reviewed by CPJ.

On May 23, a Facebook group called General Kalokoh Media Team posted that the Africanist press should face prosecution for cybercrimes, accusing Bah of exposing “highly classified” data. The group, which at the end of May had more than 700 members, says its aim is to “promote the interest of the president”, an apparent reference to President Julius Maada Bio.

When CPJ called a number on the Facebook account of General Kalokoh’s media team, a person who said he could speak anonymously for the Facebook group said he contacted local and international authorities about the posts. the Africanist press, which he says are inciting the soldiers against the government. . “We won’t enter into any kind of negotiations. We have to find him,” the person said, referring to Bah.

On May 24, Sorie Fofana, a member of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party and chairman of the board of the government network Sierra Leone Cable, wrote in an opinion piece on the news site he publishes that authorities should treat Africanist press reports as treason and said the news agency was run by “dissident elements”.

Contacted by phone by CPJ, Fofana said he made the allegations because he viewed Africanist press reports as incitement to the military, which he called “unacceptable”.

Bah said his news site continued to publish reports on alleged corruption under the Bio administration, but added that growing threats against the Africanist press could lead to the news site being suspended and his own extradition of the media. United States for prosecution in Sierra Leone.

Earlier, on March 2, the private news site AYV Newspaper published a report quoting senior government officials saying that the Bio administration planned to sue the Africanist press for defamation and publication of “unverified data” while citing allegations of corruption among government officials. and First Lady Fatima Jabbe Bio.

Bah told CPJ that he believed, based on conversations with confidential sources, that the lawsuit threat was linked to a January 25 Africanist press report alleging the first lady had spent 7.89 billion leones (US$615,000) of public funds in personal purchases. As of May 24, the Africanist press had received no communication regarding the trial, Bah said.

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, told CPJ by phone that he would respond to written concerns about threats of violence and prosecution. CPJ sent him questions via the messaging app, but did not receive a response.

CPJ’s May 24 calls and text messages to Abdulai Caulker, National Security Coordinator at the ONS, and Victor Massaquoi, Chairman of the Independent Media Commission, went unanswered.