13 maggio 2008

Silenzio sospetto per radio oppositrice in Sierra Leone

Una accesa disputa tra il Sierra Leone Peoples Party, che oggi è il principale partito dell'opposizione in Sierra Leone, e il governo dell'All Peoples Congress, ex partito dell'opposizione vincitore delle elezioni dello scorso anno, ci ricorda che le ferite della guerra civile in quella travagliata zona dell'Africa sono tutt'altro che sanate. La disputa riguarda Unity Radio, stazione dell'SLPP che seconso il segretario generale del partito Jacob Jusu Saffa sarebbe stata spenta di imperio, con un chiaro intento censorio da parte del governo in carica, dal locale ministro dell'informazione. Il ministro replica che non si è trattato di censura, ma di interferenze. Unity Radio sarebbe andata a occupare una frequenza e un sito, il Leicester Peak, che disturbano le trasmissioni di altre stazioni debitamente registrate presso la Independent Media Commission.
La cronaca degli avvenimenti è questa. L'8 maggio improvvisamente i programmi di Unity Radio non si sentono più. L'SLPP chiede lumi al ministro dell'informazione e si sente rispondere che l'impianto non è stato "spento" ma semplicemente scollegato dall'antenna a causa delle proteste da parte da altre stazioni che lamentavano forti interferenze. Il partito di Unity Radio replica di aver chiesto regolare licenza all'authority, il cui presidente è la signora Bernadette Cole, ed esibisce un certificato di questa licenza, dove chiaramente si specifica la frequenza allocata: 94.9 MHz. Sul sito dell'IMC ho trovato la lista delle stazioni radio registrate ma Unity non c'è, probabilmente perché la lista non è aggiornata. Il sito del The New People, giornale locale, ha intervistato la Cole, che sembra confermare la versione dell'SLPP. Ministro e governo rimangono invece sulle loro posizioni: l'SLPP presenti regolare richiesta e noi non potremo impedire a Unity Radio di trasmettere.
Quando una voce dell'opposizione viene spenta è sempre lecito sospettare qualcosa che non va. Secondo il sito dell'SLPP, Unity Radio era già stata saccheggiata e distrutta da bande di avversari politici nel settembre scorso, nelle ore successive alla proclamazione dei risultati elettorali favorevoli all'APC. Tra l'altro anche l'APC ha una sua stazione, chiamata We Yone, Voice of the Rising Sun su 88.8 MHz. Durante la scorsa campagna elettorale, le due emittenti si erano scambiate, evidentemente, reciproche bordate. Unity era stata accusata anche di aver organizzato trasmissioni-voodoo per sconfiggere l'avversario. Non è servito a granché. Adesso c'è solo da sperare che la questione si risolva senza spari. Dalla Sierra Leone, l'emittente pubblica SLBS si è sentita per l'ultima volta in onde corte nel 2002, su 3316 kHz.
APC Shuts Down SLPP Radio Station

Concord Times (Freetown) 12 May 2008 By Ibrahim Tarawallie

Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) Jacob Jusu Saffa Saturday said his party's unity radio station has been shut down on the instruction of the minister of information and communications, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo.
Although the minister was said to have traveled to Cairo, Egypt on Friday, his deputy Mohamed Koroma has denied claims by the opposition party, and said there was never an attempt to shut down the radio station. "We did not shut down the radio station but we disconnected the antenna," he said adding that the reason for that was because they have received several complaints from frequency users that the station was interfering with their operations. "When we checked our list, we found out that unity radio was not there as one of the stations that are supposed to be broadcasting in the country." Meanwhile, Saffa told journalists at his party's headquarters on Wallace Johnson Street that: "when I contacted the minister to find out why the station was shut down, he said he had instructed Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service engineers to shut down the station because the radio was 'interfering with other frequencies'." He said it was wrong for the minister to have issued a directive to shut down the radio station as such issues does not fall directly under the purview of his ministry. "If there was any frequency interference, the responsibility was with the Independent Media Commission and National Telecommunication Company that have assigned the frequency to the station to notify us," he argued.
He said the radio did not allocate the 94.9 frequency to itself, adding that they applied to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) for space at Leicester Peak and permission was granted them in writing which was also copied the permanent secretary of the ministry of information and communications.
Saffa pointed out that it was evident from the behavior of the minister and his deputy that their actions were part of a carefully contrived scheme to curtail their freedom of expression by keeping the radio off air. "The APC government has no intention to abide by the basic rules of democratic governance. The shut down of the radio station has the backing of state house," he said.
He said they are going to use every tool guaranteed by law to resist the frontal attack on their fundamental freedoms. SLPP's national chairman Alhaji Unisa N. S. Jah said: "the silence of the radio station for three days is not because we are unable to operate it but it is because of the sinister moods." He said people have been waiting for the radio station to come on as a source to give them accurate information.




The Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) wishes to draw the attention of the public to an attempt by the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) government to muzzle freedom of expression and debate in our country.
The incident that has necessitated this press briefing has to do with the Unity Radio FM 94.9. In August, 2007 the SLPP registered a radio station with the Independent Media Commission (IMC) as is required by law. That radio station was deliberately targeted by identifiable elements of the APC and their hired thugs on the very day the election results were declared in their favour. Several other properties including computer equipment were carted away with and the office comprehensively vandalized.
The SLPP made official representation to the President and his Vice to admonish them about the message such action would send about his government’s commitment to plurality and the basic freedoms that are enshrined in the constitution of this land. Some arrests were made and charged to court. To date, no one knows the state of the case.
The party then made tremendous efforts to replace the equipment that were stolen by the APC thugs on that fateful day. The party wrote a letter to the Independent Media Commission (IMC) to notify them of changes in the particulars of the replacement equipment as required by the IMC application procedure on March 31, 2008. The party also wrote an application to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) requesting space at Leicester Peak. Our application was approved and rent for the lease paid to SLBS. The Party fully complied with the rules and regulations and paid all the fees as required by statute governing IMC and National Telecommunication Commission (NATCOM).
On the evening of Thursday, May 8, 2008, I learned that the Unity Radio was off the air. Upon further enquiry, I found out that the radio has been shut down on the instructions of the Minister of Information and Communication, Alhaji I.B. Kargbo. I immediately reached him on the phone to find out why he had so instructed. He informed me that he had instructed SLBS engineers to shut down the station because the radio was "interfering with other frequencies". I reminded him it was wrong for him to have issued a directive to shut the radio station as such issues do not directly fall in the purview of his Ministry. If there was any frequency interference, the responsibility was with IMC and NATCOM that had assigned the frequency to Unity Radio to notify us.
We agreed to meet and discuss the matter further. As promised, we (Alhaji Momodu Koroma, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and I) arrived at his office at 9:30AM on Friday, May 9, 2008. We met with the Minister in the presence of the Deputy Minister, Mr. Mohamed Koroma, Permanent Secretary and other officials of his Ministry. The Minister repeated his misleading statements about frequency and his lack of knowledge of the transaction. He dodged the issue and left in a frightful hurry claiming that he had to pick up a flight to Cairo. Although he left us at 10AM, we later learnt the flight departed at about 6 PM. In the meeting with him, he directed the Deputy Minister and the Permanent Secretary to meet with us at 3PM and resolve the matter. In the 3PM meeting, the Deputy Minister pretended not to have received any directive from the Minister. He then informed, us that in the absence of his Minister, he could only act if directed from State House. We immediately confirmed our original suspicion of a game plan to deprive our freedom to broadcast.
We reached the Secretary to the President, Mr. Sanpha Koroma who called the Deputy Minister and the SLBS Engineer, Dr. Sesay in our presence. The Engineer confirmed on the telephone that there was no technical problem and interference with any other radio station. Mr. Sanpha Koroma then summoned the Deputy Minister to State House. The Deputy Minister promised to call me after his meeting with the Secretary to the President. He never did. I made several efforts to know the outcome of the State House meeting on this issue but the Deputy Minister repeatedly refused to take my phone calls. As I speak to you, the station remains off the air.
A number of things are evident in my narrative:

1. Unity Radio did not allocate the 94.9 frequency itself. The frequency was allocated to us by the appropriate regulatory body, the IMC
2. Any interference with other frequencies should be reported to the IMC which has the authority to notify the station and to agree remedial measures where so required
3. Unity Radio applied to SLBS for space at Leicester Peak and that permission was granted in writing to us and copied to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication and the required rental fee paid.
4. It is the responsibility of the statutory bodies to brief the supervising ministry on developments within their respective departments.
5. It is evident from the behaviour of the Minister and his Deputy that their action is part of a carefully contrived scheme to curtail our freedom of expression by keeping Unity Radio off the air.
6. Despite its rhetoric, it is evident from the actions above that the APC government has no intention to abide by the basic rules of democratic governance and the scheme has the backing of State House.

Members of the fourth estate, we would like to remind you that this action on the radio is not isolated and is part of the series of devious attempts (including human rights abuses, vandalisation of Party offices, intimidation, harassment and molestation of party members and candidates for the Local Government Election) by the APC government to muzzle the opposition.
Let us be on record that the SLPP will not allow this nation to suffer any reversal in our had won freedoms. We call on government to cease and desist from following the destructive path that they have chosen. Failure to adhere to this will be seen as a direct assault on our freedom both as a legitimate political opposition and as citizens of the state.
The SLPP is prepared to use every tool guaranteed by law to resist this frontal attack on our fundamental freedoms. In the meantime, we urge all SLPP supporters across the country to exercise restraint as this matter plays out.
We call on the UN and the International Community who are guarantors of our hard won peace and the IMC to intervene immediately to return Unity Radio on air.
To our membership, be assured that our Radio Unity, your pride MUST come on soonest.

Jacob Jusu Saffa National Secretary-General Freetown, May 10, 2008


Letter to the British Government Rt. Honourable David Milliband MP Secretary of State, Foreign and Common Wealth Office King Charles Street London SW1A 2AH 11th May 2008.

Dear Foreign Secretary,

Threat to democracy in Sierra Leone

I wish to draw your attention to worrying signals pointing to a threat to the nascent democratic gains made in Sierra Leone, gains that have been possible thanks to a very large measure to the support by the British government.
You will recall that a general election took place in Sierra Leone last year that saw the governing party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) losing power to the Opposition All Peoples Congress (APC). Whilst the SLPP had great reservations regarding the conduct of those elections especially the role played by the Chief Electoral Commissioner, the SLPP nevertheless acquiesced to the results principally because we wanted to maintain our hard-won peace and stability.
It is a matter of regret that since the APC’s assumption of power in Sierra Leone there has been systematic and calculated harassment and intimidation of supporters/sympathizers of the Opposition SLPP. There have been numerous instances of arbitrary dismissal from jobs, physical attacks on Opposition sympathizers, and the wilful destruction of the SLPP party Head Offices in Freetown and the southern provincial city of Bo. Despite these acts of provocation, the SLPP has continued to appeal to its members for restraint and to remain law abiding.
The APC government has now decided to take its political intolerance further by closing down the SLPP radio station.
We view this with the utmost seriousness as it is a calculated attempt to muzzle the Opposition and render it ineffectual. During their years in Opposition the APC operated their radio station which they used to great effect to propagate their messages to their supporters without hindrance; the SLPP deserves no less.
The SLPP has been very scrupulous in satisfying all regulations laid down by the Independent Media Commission of Sierra Leone. As such, the APC government has no justifiable reason for ordering the closure of the SLPP radio station.
Information is the oxygen for democracy, and by depriving the Opposition of a means to operate our radio station, the APC is embarking on a dangerous path that will undermine democracy and undo whatever gains have been achieved in Sierra Leone.
We wish therefore to appeal to your government to use whatever leverage you may bring to bear on the APC government to cease and desist from the harassment of Opposition supporters to operate freely within their rights as provided for in the Constitution of Sierra Leone.
I should end this by underscoring the abiding gratitude of the people of Sierra Leone for your continued support for our Country, and look forward to your continued help in building and maintaining the institutions of democracy in our Country.

Please be assured of our highest consideration.

Yours sincerely,
Harold B. Saffa Chairman SLPP, UK and Ireland Branch.


"No Radio Station Has Been Banned By Government"—Information Ministry
- Sunday 11 May 2008.

Ministry of Information and Communication Press Release
One of the pre-election campaign platforms of the APC is the commitment to freedom of the press and creating an enabling environment for all media practitioners to carry out their functions without hindrance. Since the APC assumed office, this policy has been strictly adhered to even in the face of downright false allegations and unwarranted provocation.
The public is therefore informed that contrary to insinuations by the SLPP that their Radio station ‘UNITY’ has been banned, the situation is totally different. In order to put the records straight, Government is obliged to make certain clarifications:
1. That the SLPP Radio did not go through the right procedures in terms of registration. The Ministry of Information was not legally informed with regards the operations of the radio.
2. That the SLPP Radio went ahead to install an antenna across other antennas at Leicester Peak using private engineers without the knowledge of the Ministry of Information.
3. The installation of the said antenna caused disruptions in the transmissions of existing radio stations. These radio stations filed official complaints to the Ministry of Information, which caused Government to intervene.
4. Some SLPP executives, including Secretary General J.J. Saffa and former Presidential running-mate Momodu Koroma, have already been in discussion with Ministry of Information officials as late as yesterday Friday 9th May 2008 about going through the official acceptable process
Let it therefore be known that if the SLPP Radio goes through the proper channels for its broadcast, then Government has no power to stop it or ban such broadcasts. It should however be emphasized that this Government is a great respecter of the law and would not allow a group of people or any political party to flout the laid-down rules of this country or infringe on the rights of other people or institutions without intervening to correct the anomaly.
10th May 2008.

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