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Four female journalists stripped, paraded in Sierra Leone over genital mutiliation report

Four female journalists stripped, paraded in Sierra Leone over genital mutiliation report
Girls, after going FGM (female genital mutiliation), wait for being initiated into Bondo female secret society.

Four female journalists were in a state of shock on Monday after reportedly being attacked, forced to strip and marched through a Sierra Leonean town by a pro-female genital mutilation (FGM) group, Agence France-Presse (AFP) has reported.

Witnesses said the four were accused of reporting on an anti-FGM campaign last Friday, which marked the international day of zero tolerance to female circumcision.

The AFP report said: [Link]

The women were allegedly abducted by a pro-FGM group in the eastern city of Kenema, then stripped naked and marched through the streets before police and human rights organisations intervened to set them free. "We are still in a daze," one of the victims, who works for the local United Nations radio, told reporters by telephone.

"We had received threatening telephone calls on our lives, that we will be taught a lesson not to report on FGM," journalist Manja Balama-Samba said. "We were only undertaking a reporting assignment and have no hand in any campaign," she said.

Witnesses said the women were forcibly taken to the forest headquarters of the Bondo society, a secret organisation of women which traditionally carries out female genital mutilation as part of initiation rites. There they were reportedly stripped before being marched into town.

Speaking to journalists, the head of the Bondo society, Haja Massah Kaisamba, would not comment on the allegations other than saying the four women were taken into "our custody because they spoke unfavourably on radio against FGM".

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) expressed shock at the incident and said, "We condemn in the strongest of terms these illegal arrests and detention in a Bondo Bush of the journalists and reiterate our appeal to the public that formal and civilised channels exist for seeking redress which must be respected. We commend the Sierra Leone Police whose prompt collaboration with SLAJ led to the release of the journalists."

Manjama Balama-Samba of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) and United Nations Radio, Henrietta Kpaka also of SLBS, Isha Jalloh and Jenneh Brima both of Eastern Radio were picked up and taken to the Bondo Society Bush. Balama-Samba was reportedly stripped naked in the bush and was later paraded humiliatingly on the streets of Kenema to the Paramount Chief, Amara Bonya Vangahun before being set free, according to SLAJ.

She said several threatening phone calls were made to her by supporters of FGM and felt humiliated and her life threatened by today’s action.

SLAJ said, "Once again SLAJ reiterates its position that Sierra Leone is a country governed by law and if the Bondo people felt strongly at anything said about them on radio, they have a right to reply and should ask the radio station for a rejoinder rather than illegally arresting and detaining journalists. SLAJ does not want to be forced to use harsher methods of getting redress and would like all to behave as by law established."

According to UN figures, some 94 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 years in Sierra Leone have undergone circumcision, traditionally believed to control female sexuality and make girls more "marriageable".

Date posted: February 10, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 4950