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SLAJ signs MOU with Security Sector

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) as a way of ensuring the safety and protection of journalists and the media on Tuesday 2nd November 2021 signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Security Sector at the Conference hall of the Office of the National Security.

Signatory to the MOU includes SLAJ, the Sierra Leone Police, The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, the national Fire Force, the Sierra Leone Correctional Service, Office of National Security and the Central intelligence and Security Unity.

This historic event marked SLAJ contribution towards celebrating the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. The purpose of this MOU is to set forth certain commitments by the parties in relation to their roles and responsibilities in our democracy.

According to the MOU, the Preservation and maintenance of law and order fall within the remit of the security sector, particularly the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), while Society is expected to uphold certain norms and values as it relates to law and order.

“It is expected that the media and security sector should be complementary to each other in order to ensure tranquility in the society. It is the desired expectation of the security sector that the media should not serve as a catalyst for inciting pronouncements that will lead to a breach of public peace” it furthered.

It shall be incumbent on the media to ensure that in the interest of national security, classified security information is not made available for public consumption.

The Security Sector shall ensure a safe and secured environment for the media to carry out their activities unhindered, provided that such activities do not lead to the breakdown of law and order.

The Security Sector shall ensure that the media manifest professionalism, accuracy, objectivity, non-partisanship in reporting issues relating to security sector service delivery.

Among the commitments agreed upon by all parties include:

• Both parties shall work together to do no harm and protect people at risk;

• Both parties shall respect each other’s professional values, needs, and requirements;

• Both parties shall ensure the public’s right to information;

• Both parties shall stand together to strengthen the fundamental importance of media freedom and law and order for the security, prosperity, and wellbeing of all societies;

• Both parties shall work together to create and maintain an environment where media freedom can thrive;

• Both parties shall work together to sensitise media and security workers about each other’s roles and responsibilities;

• Both parties shall work together to ensure an environment conducive to freedom of expression, access to information, and other fundamental freedoms;

• Both parties shall work to actively reach out and constructively dialogue with each other in times of crisis;

Presenting his statement to members of the security Council, the SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, citied the UN cultural agency UNESCO that works to protect media workers, stating in 2020 alone, 62 journalists were killed just for doing their jobs and between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 professionals lost their lives the same way, among which, nine out of ten cases, UNESCO says, the killers go unpunished.

Because of grim statistics like these, this year’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists is highlighting the important role of prosecutorial services, the police and the courts, not only in bringing perpetrators to justice, but also prosecuting threats of violence against journalists.

He maintained a 2020 study done by the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) on the Safety of Journalists in the country, the most common threats against journalists are Intimidation, Harassment, Humiliation, Arrest, Detention, and Physical Attack, and the most common perpetrators are the Sierra Leone Police, Military personnel, Politicians, Chiefs/Community, stakeholders/people, Civil servants, and some Members of the public.

“The latest MRCG report on ‘Press Freedom in Sierra Leone’ published in May 2021, gives a figure of 35 such cases being monitored by the MRCG and SLAJ; 26 of which had been concluded, settled, resolved, dropped or abandoned because of lack of progress; three were in court; and six under police investigation/inconclusive/stalled, according to the report,” he said.

The SLAJ President said this year’s celebration was on the backdrop of the historic repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, which had been a source of justification of various attacks on journalists and media workers in the country, assuring the country has began seeing a decline in cases of arrest and detention of journalists on the orders of politicians or influential people, although there is growing concern regarding attacks on journalists in the digital space, including harassment, intimidation and insult of mostly female journalists.

“Attacks on journalists undermine democracy, the rule of law, and the fight against corruption. Journalists must have a safe space to operate despite the dangers that come with the terrain” he disclosed, while appealing to the Government and its agencies to empower journalists by giving them a safe and secure atmosphere to do their job without any hindrance or interference.

President Monk said the security sector must guarantee safety and ensure protection of journalists during and after presidential, political and other events, and especially during national elections, which was more the reason they are holding the roundtable dialogue with the security sector to start working together to addressing these challenges.

“Engagements like this are essential for the responsible maintenance of law and order on the one hand, and for ensuring the safety and security of journalists and media workers at all times on the other.

Without law and order, society will be chaotic and the work and life of journalists will be seriously threatened. So this dialogue gives us an opportunity to understand, respect and support each other’s role in the functioning of our democracy”.

The Acting National Security Caulker, said it is the responsibility of the security sector to ensure the preservation of peace, law and order in society while the media has a corresponding responsibility as well by serving as watch dogs in society, explaining the media nd security sector has corresponding role towards consolidating the hard won democratic credentials.

“The security sector will always avails itself to ensure the media have access to information as long as it is not dangerous to peace or serve as threat to national security,” he assured, urging the media not to resort to misinformation as the country approached the election era.

According to the Inspector General of Police, Ambrose Suvola, the event if his memory can serve him well is first in the country’s history, disclosing the signing of the MOU is in fulfillment to the repeal of Part 5 of the 1965 Criminal Libel Law from the country’s law books.

He urged the journalists to understand the role of the police towards ensuring peace and stability of the country, calling on the media not to put out publication that will endanger the peace and security of the state as their roles in nation building.

The IGP assured the police is in total support of the MOU and he will ensure each police officer receive a cope of the MOU to avoid excuses while dealing with the media, urging SLAJ to do likewise in sensitizing its membership on the content of the MOU.

According to the Chief of Defense Staff, Lieutenant General Sullay Sesay, this is the first time the Military is having such face-to-face engagement, which he applauded assuring they will cascade the document to their personnel for them to know their roles and responsibility towards protecting the journalists whiles doing their work.

The former President of SLAJ Umaru Fofana who had been and is very active in protecting and defending journalists read the citation of the MOU in the presence of everyone.

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