Sierra Leone’s Criminal Defamation Law was introduced by Sir Albert Margai of the SLPP in 1965. Without a doubt, it has become one of the most draconian hammers used to muzzle and “eliminate” opposition parties and “dissenting” voices from the media. The APC party then vehemently opposed the law, but the late Siaka Stevens perfected the dark art by seizing power in 1968. It has become its sharpest tool of choice in his regime’s arsenal. single party. Despite numerous promises to repeal this law in electoral manifestos, successive governments have continued to wield this sword of Damocles as an antidote to democracy.
The fact that it took 55 years and a president of SLPP Bio to repeal this undemocratic law is not only ironic but self-proclaimed. Freedom of speech is the palm oil with which to eat democracy, and the repeal of the criminal defamation law was a milestone in our history. President Bio deserves all the praise he can get. But is the recent wave of arrests, interrogations and detentions endangering his legacy? isn’t it ironic that President Bio, who has championed the repeal of the criminal defamation law, is presiding over a period in which political opponents have been referred to the Department of Criminal Investigations (CID), for have expressed their objections to some of its policies? Does this give credence to the idea that “freedom of speech” is not a guarantee for “freedom after speech”?
The media said that Ms. Diana F Konomanyi, Eastern Regional President of the APC and Ms. Femi C. Cole, President of the Unity Party were arrested and detained (Sierraleonetelegraph.com-13/12/21 ). While NGC’s Dr Dennis Bright was invited to Police HQ on 7/12/21 for speaking out against the controversial mid-term census, Ms Konomanyi was tied up for an alleged video she allegedly posted; calling on his Kono family to boycott the controversial mid-term census. Ms Cole suffered a similar fate for similar claims, while chaperoning her colleague at CID. Other politicians have reportedly had similar experiences. Looks like “free speech” is under attack by the so called high priest of free speech?
So what is freedom of speech or freedom of speech?
Freedom of expression can take on different nuances, depending on individual perceptions. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law, the United Nations has recognized freedom of expression as a human right; a “Principle which helps an individual or a community to express their opinions and points of view without fear of reprisals, censorship or legal sanction” (Student companion). For others, it’s the right to tell others what they don’t want to hear. By arresting or detaining Ms Diana, Ms Cole, Dr Bright and others for expressing their views, has the Bio administration violated their human rights? If so, does President Bio give with one hand and take with the other?
But let’s remember that “every right has responsibilities. We measure our rights against the inherent responsibilities that come with such rights. We have the right to remain stupid, like others the right to rebel against this stupidity. Sierra Leoneans have the right to vote, and with that right comes civic and moral responsibilities. Responsibility is the price we have to pay for freedoms. Does the right to free speech give anyone the right to falsely shout “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater?
President Bio’s reign is painted with accusations, ranging from tribalism, nepotism, corruption, and more. mainly by the opposition. Supporters and supporters of President Bio’s SLPP accuse the APC opposition of trying to make the country “ungovernable.” APC members / supporters have reportedly repeatedly encouraged their supporters to engage in civil disobedience; in protest against some of Bio’s policies. Members of both sides resorted to swapping insults (mammy Cuss) in the lyrics to the music and on social media Stock Exchange. Neither party showing the slightest desire to discourage or condemn such heinous acts suggests how low and motherly our politics have become. Silence can mean consent.
Like others, it is Ms. Diana’s inalienable right to oppose the mid-term census. But does that mean asking an entire district to boycott a national exercise, regardless of the inherent controversies? Many accuse him of self-defense policy and wonder why she didn’t do the same when Ernest created the Kerana and Falaba districts before the 2016 midterm census? The SLPP won the presidential elections, not the legislative elections. And this is not lost on the SLPP. Dig it? There are reports that some enumerators have been chased with machetes in parts of the country; just to ask someone for their name and date of birth. If this is true, it shows the potential dangers of tying our views, our rights or anything with rocket fuel.
It is understandable that Bio’s administration views Ms. Diana’s behavior as an act of sabotage. Who would you blame if there was loss of life? Would it have been worth it? The point is, should the CPA throw the baby out of the stroller, whenever it faces a political blockage from the SLPP? Nor does it justify President Bio’s selective hearing loss in the face of opposition concerns. But there are better ways to overcome, overcome and work around our political differences. To use the still suffering and gullible electorate as pawns on its political spectrum is not only insensitive but selfish.
This is the kind of behavior that has left many people wondering if our political landscape needs adult supervision. We can express our political differences without needing “mammy cuss” as our primary currency. First Lady Fatima Bio was forced to publicly express her grief at being the object of the virulent “Mammy Cuss” during the victory lap of the new leader of the SLPP, Hawa Foray. President Bio berated Fatima for washing dirty laundry in public. Perhaps she did it because Ngor Bio did not listen to her speech on the pillow. Because of her character, position or role, she has been controversial. But whatever its controversies, Fatima Bio, like everyone else, does not deserve such abuse. She’s a woman for god’s sake. Love her or hate her, you have the urn to make your feelings known, if you want to.
Does President Bio risk destroying his well-deserved legacy of repealing criminal defamation law?
No one questions the right of the APC to question or question the mid-term census, for fear of political gymnastics. It takes someone to know one and “the trick dies ……. But that should not be a carte blanche to promote, incite and support the unrest in the country; all under the guise of free speech. We don’t should not demand freedom of speech as a compensation for our freedom of thought, which we seldom use. Likewise, it does not give the Bio administration the right to arbitrarily arrest those who share views or opinions that “She doesn’t. Such actions could put Bio’s legacy with criminal libel law in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”
No one doubts the frustration, feelings of injustice, threats and fear of persecution that come with being in opposition. No one questions the injustices, discrimination and perceived unfair advantages that come from being in opposition. But does this mean that we must continue to use the electorate, which moreover bears the brunt of the ineptitude of our policies, as pawns in their political spectrum? There is no doubt that free speech is a difficult balancing act with very thin lines between democracy and tyranny. It can be difficult to fly with eagles when flying with crows. But this can be done…. with a common sense of purpose.
Our two main parties keep telling us how bad and unfit the other is to govern. Ironically, not only do they use each other as a standard or benchmark to demonstrate their differences, but also as a litmus test to measure their individual ability to govern. How would you rate your success against a failing or failed opponent as standard? Try Singapore or Rwanda to measure your success.
In the meantime, the APC could content itself with officially naming its flag bearer; unless they want to risk another round of “tu sabi suis?”. Indecision can cause opportunities to be lost; and dreams can be destroyed during times of indecision. Sometimes the key to success is doing what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to.
Our lives start to end the day we stay silent about the things that matter (MLK)
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone.
Remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room.