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Journalist goes into hiding in Sierra Leone after article on President's extramarital affair

Journalist goes into hiding in Sierra Leone after article on President's extramarital affair
Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Sierre Leone journalist Sylvia Blyden has been forced into hiding after receiving death threats, while another, Umaru Sitta Turay, suffered a vicious knife attack, Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has reported. Both journalists were targetted for attack because they had allegedly “libelled” Sierra Leone’s president, RSF said, urging the head of state to call off the “witch-hunt” against them.

Sylvia Blyden, publisher of the independent newspaper Awareness Times has been in hiding in fear of her life after the paper carried an article written by her on May 12, headlined “Fake First Lady: President’s Sweetheart in Kailahun Mess”, referring to an extramarital affair involving the president.

She told RSF on the phone that she had been summoned by police and received death threats. On the president’s orders, his press spokesman, Sheka Shekito Tarawallie, had sent police looking for her, accusing her of “seditious libel”.

A few days before Sylvia Blyden’s article appeared, this same official, who is also a journalist, wrote an article in the privately owned newspaper the Torchlight, insinuating that Blyden was having an affair with, among others, the leader of the opposition. He also made allegations against her last year, claiming that she prostituted herself to win favours from the government.

Umaru Sitta Turay, editor of the bi-weekly New People in Freetown, was slashed about the throat with a knife on 14 May. His assailants were Alimamy Turay, a photographer working for the presidency and a supporter of the ruling All People’s Congress Party (APC), known as Tunde. They had burst into the journalist’s office and accused him of being close to his colleague, Sylvia Blyden and of serving the interests of the opposition by writing articles sullying the reputation of the president. The journalist escaped serious injury.

“The vilification campaign against Sylvia Blyden of the past few weeks is shameful and has reached an alarming level in the past few days," RSF said, adding: “The president’s press spokesman appears to have some direct responsibility for these incidents”. “We urge the head of state to give a public guarantee of this journalist’s safety. If he considers he has been defamed, he has other means of seeking damages, including legal, rather than going in for a witch-hunt”.

The editor of tabloid newspaper the Exclusive, David Jabatti, was physically assaulted by APC supporters on 13 March. Three days later two radio stations, Radio Unity and Rising Sun Radio, were closed by the authorities in Freetown.

Sierra Leone is ranked 114th out of 173 countries in RSF's 2008 world press freedom index.

Date posted: May 21, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 402