Sierra Leone: Two Journalists Charged with Defamation Retract Articles, Offer Apology

As the debate over whether to repeal or invoke Sierra Leone’s Public Order Act of 1965 intensifies, two journalists Kashope Holland-Cole, managing editor and Ibrahim Samura, editor of the Prime Time newspaper have respectively offered a public apology and retracted false and malicious defamatory articles they published against Attorney Adekunle King.
 
The retraction and public apology is part of an agreement mediated by the president of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) Mr. Kelvin Lewis and his executive for Attorney King to drop pending criminal charges and civil lawsuit against Prime Times newspaper, Mr. Cole and Mr. Samura.
 
Attorney King, a senior legal adviser of the National Petroleum Directorate in Freetown, the capital said apart from the retraction and public apology, the journalists must pay Le 12,000,000 (approximately $3,000) as reimbursement for legal fees to discontinue both criminal and civil actions.
 
SLAJ officials are currently negotiating the legal fees, which SLAJ officials say, “Mr. Cole and Mr. Samura are men of straw and cannot afford that sum of money.”
 
In the retraction, Mr. Cole and Mr. Samura say as they respectfully set the records straight “we say sorry for publishing inaccuracies against Lawyer Adekunle and as a result tender apologies to him, compatriot legal practitioners and friends for any inconvenience caused.  Be informed also that information published by this newspaper misrepresents the hard-earned credibility, integrity and standing of the said lawyer.”
 
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) reported that Mr. Cole and Mr. Samura were arrested on May 3, 2013 after Attorney King, a married man filed a complaint accusing the two journalists of publishing pornographic pictures of him with a supposed former girlfriend.
 
The Court presided by Magistrate Bankole Shyllon refused to grant Mr. Cole and Mr. Samura bail on May 3, 2013 ultimately, causing them to spend three days including World Press Freedom Day in detention at the notorious Pademba Road prison in Freetown.
 
On May 6, 2013, both journalists were charged in Freetown Court No. 3 with eight counts of offenses including criminal defamation.  Mr. Cole and Mr. Samura have since been out on Le10, 000,000 (about $2,500) bail.
 
The detention of the two journalists created a stir among journalists and professional media organizations worldwide.
 
However, Theophilus Sahr Gbenda, a Sierra Leonean freelance journalist, civil rights campaigner and current Chair of the Association of Journalists on Mining and Extractives (AJME) said, "World Press Freedom Day is a day like any other day and that it does not in any way preclude a journalist from being arrested and detained if that journalist is guilty of gross professional misconduct."
 
“As if it was an outright paid-up crusade, Lawyer Adekule King was made the subject of persistent front-page bashing in the Prime Newspaper to an extent that the whole thing became an all out personal rift this time around not between the Lawyer and his former girlfriend but between the Lawyer and the newspaper management,” Gbenda added.
 
Meanwhile, a cross section of journalists and media practitioners argue that Magistrate Shyllon was biased towards the journalists and that he should have recused himself from the proceedings because of statements he made rebuking the media, stating that he has in the past also been a victim of unfavorable media coverage.
 
Nonetheless, a statement from Attorney King via email said as a man of forgiveness he would forgive Mr. Cole and Mr. Samura respectively, "They know what they were doing, this is my time to forgive, imagine what Jesus went through?  But on the cross he cried Father Forgive them for they know not what they were doing.”
 
An original copy of the Retraction and Public Apology is published below:
 
"Reference to articles published by this press against Lawyer Adekunle King on the subjects of pornography, facebook rude boy etc; we apologise for saying things that are defaming of the former. 
 
In light of the above, and as we respectfully put the records straight, the editorial team of Prime Times therefore publishes this retraction informing our readers that we say sorry for publishing inaccuracies against Lawyer Adekunle and as a result tender apologies to him, compatriot legal practitioners and friends for any inconvenience caused.
 
Be informed also that information published by this newspaper misrepresents the hard earned credibility, integrity and standing of the said lawyer.
 
To this, however, we say to our readers and the general public that Lawyer Adekunle has neither involved in any pornography nor engaged in the use of uncouth words on the social media (facebook) as was reported by this newspaper.
 
We take responsibility for the publications of unexplored information and ask our cherished readers to show understanding with us for doing things going against the newspaper’s editorial standpoint.
 
Being mindful of the fact that a publication of inaccuracies is unprofessional of any journalist, and making corrections respectfully repair the damage caused, we regretfully, remorsefully and repentantly say sorry to Lawyer Adekunle and loved ones including close associates though.
 
We hope that this retraction and apology will mitigate the substantial damage that has been caused to Lawyer Adekunle."
 
Disclosure: The author of this article is a relative – a cousin of Attorney Adekunle J. King
 
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Critique Echo Newspaper is a major source of news and objective analyses about governance, democracy and human-right. Edited and published in Kenema city, eastern Sierra Leone, the outlet is generally referred to as a level plying ground for the youths, women and children.

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