The National Telecommunications (NATCOM), chaired by Momoh Konteh, has commenced criminal summons against three journalists from two newspapers in the Freetown Magistrates Court number 1 on allegations of conspiracy to commit seditious libel and defamatory libel contrary to the Public Order Act of 1965.

The Managing Editor of Salone Times newspaper, Donald Theo Harding, and his Editor, Thomas Dixon, were indicted on ten counts of seditious and defamatory libel, while the Chief Executive Editor of the New Age Newspaper, Ibrahim Samura, and Thomas Dixon, who also serves as Consultant Managing Editor at the same newspaper, were charged with four counts of seditious and defamatory libel.

The journalists are due to appear in court this morning after the telecoms regulator complained to the police that their respective publication on 27&28 March 2017 were libelous and defamatory.

The complainant alleged that Samura and Dixon published in the New Age Newspaper on 28 March, 2017 an article headlined “Another Nightmare… TOP UP CARD INCREMENT APPROVED” which according to the former contained some elements of defamatory libel.

On the other charge sheet, the complainant alleged that Harding and Dixon published in their Monday, 27 March, 2017 edition a story headlined “Corporate Gangsterism…AIRTEL, AFRICELL, NATCOM IN TOP UP CONSPIRACY”, which the complainant claimed is defamatory.

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists has campaigned for the decriminalisation of libel as contained in sections of the Public Order Act of 1965. President Ernest Bai Koroma made a campaign promise, prior to becoming president in 2007 that, he would expunge the ‘obnoxious laws’ but has essentially reneged on that for almost ten years. Officials in his government and state institutions like NATCOM have used the dreaded law to punish journalists for expressing views they regard as ‘defamatory’ and ‘libelous’.