Atmosphere in which NINJAS was formed
Culled from Archived News on the Sierra Leone Web’s News of December 1998
***Paramount Chief Bai Kelfa N'fat has urged the government to hold talks with the RUF. "The philosophy of fire putting out fire cannot work any more. This war will only end at the negotiation table," he told a consultative conference in Kambia. N'fat said it was unrealistic to think that the war could be won militarily, and added that his people had already suffered "enormously." He said rebels had burned down 38 houses Sunday in a village five miles from Kambia.
***U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, said the U.N. Security Council "believes you cannot settle the present conflict in Sierra Leone through military force alone. The hostilities...should be mitigated by an attitude of accommodation, dialogue, and reconciliation."
***Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer in a BBC interview on Wednesday confirmed the detention of three journalists, who were being questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on allegations that they failed to clear their reports with security officials or to the Ministry of Information prior to publication. The three were identified as BBC correspondents Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay and Sylvester Rogers, and Concord Times journalist Sulaiman Momodu. "As far as I know, there are two issues involved," Spencer told the BBC. "First of all, the accuracy of the reports; secondly, whether it had been cleared with the security forces or myself. Now, if either of those two had not happened, then there’s a problem because, I think, the journalists have been warned enough that we are in a war situation, and that we have pointed it out very clearly. And what has been happening recently, is that people file reports which are inaccurate, which not only create panic, but also in turn will demoralise our own forces. In addition to that, they fuel the crisis. Because there are times when the rebels--in fact even now--they cannot quite communicate with each other. They are broken up into groups. But then some report is put out about some attack somewhere, and about the type of atrocities that have been committed -- we think quite a lot of the time it’s not true. And some other group hears it and says, 'Oh, well let us do the same type of thing'. So that is the problem we’ve been having. There are restrictions placed on reporting in a war situation." In response to a question as to whether the journalists' arrest might demoralise people, or give the wrong impression, he replied: "No it doesn’t. Talk to ordinary Sierra Leoneans and find out what they think about the types of reports that are going out. In fact most people are very angry at the types of reports going out, particularly when some people know what is really happening." The Concord Times (online edition) quoted Spencer as telling journalists at an emergency press briefing that, "The expression of an opinion without sufficient facts is a manifestation of ignorance...From now on, government will bring to book any journalist who publishes information about the war without cross-checking with either ECOMOG, the Ministry of Information, or Defence."
***In a letter to President Kabbah, the independent journalists' group Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) called for the release of three journalists arrested by Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers in Sierra Leone on Tuesday. "Reporters Sans Frontieres wishes you to use your influence to secure the release of the three journalists," the letter read. "As far as we know, they have merely exercised their right to inform as guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by Sierra Leone. Our organisation also urges you to ensure that journalists can work freely and in safety throughout the country."
***BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay appeared in court Thursday and was charged with publishing false news likely to cause public alarm in connection with with his covering the war in Sierra Leone. "I am not guilty to the charge of publishing a false report," he told the court. Ojukutu-Macaulay was released on Le 6 million bond, and the case was adjourned until Friday. Two other journalists detained on similar charges, BBC Makeni correspondent Sylvester Rogers and Concord Times journalist Sulaiman Momodu, have not yet been charged.
***A political solution to the Sierra Leone conflict is unlikely, and an all-out military offensive is necessary to achieve lasting peace, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya said on Friday. Banya said the authorities in Freetown "don't really believe" that RUF rebels would actually honour any peace agreement. He added that the rebels had shown no sign of agreeing to the government's two preconditions for negotiation: that they lay down their arms and recognise the legitimacy of the civilian government. Banya said the authorities believe that the rebellion could be put down by disbanding its leadership and by getting financial assistance from the international community for 5,000 more troops to reinforce ECOMOG. Banya suggested that the international community, including Britain, the United States, Italy, and the Netherlands, had "stalled" in providing aid necessary to finance additional troops from Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Ghana. A U.S. diplomat quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said that Washington had "already given substantial logistical support" to ECOMOG in the form of helicopters and vehicles, suggesting that no more assistance could be expected in the short term.
***President Kabbah has urged Freetown residents to remain calm following reports of AFRC/RUF rebel attacks 30 miles from Freetown. "There is no reason to panic. There is no way the rebels can harm you. They are only a handful of people and not strong enough to make any trouble for you people in Freetown," Kabbah said in a radio and television address late Saturday evening. "ECOMOG has assured us 100 percent that they are completely on top of the situation and that the rebels are no match militarily for them. The ECOMOG force are far better armed than the rebels...There is no need for you to panic and begin to think of running away."
***Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer told the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists Saturday that from now on all news reports on the war would have to be submitted to a censor. "All journalists are now required to clear all stories on the war with the Minister of Information, ECOMOG, or the information centre of the Sierra Leone military before filing them," he said. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, who attended the meeting, concurred. "In a war situation, no journalist can be neutral. You either support the democratic forces or you are against it," he said.
***22 civilians charged last week in Magistrate's Court will be put on trial this week, court officials said on Monday. The defendants face charges ranging from treason and aiding and abetting to conspiracy to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone by unlawful means. Among those charged are Mildred Hanciles, a former SLBS broadcaster; Prince Edward Nicol, former Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Health; Amadu Jalloh, a senior journalist with Liberty Voice; Manso Mbompa Turay, editor of the defunct Eagle newspaper; Conrad Roy, editor of the Expo Times; ...
***A government-appointed committee charged with evaluating evidence against persons detained in Freetown on suspicion of having collaborated with the AFRC military junta has recommended the release of 30 more civilians. The committee said at the weekend it had been unable to discover "any evidence of connivance with the ousted military junta," according to SLBS (state radio). Among those recommended for release were journalist Abubakarr Shaw and government secretary Sylvia Blyden, as well as nine police officers and prison personnel, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP).
***BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, who was arrested last week and charged with filing a false report while covering a rebel ambush, and with not clearing his report with a censor, has been granted bail and fined $3,750, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Monday. BBC Makeni correspondent Sylvester Rogers was also arrested, but has not so far been charged. Concord Times journalist Sulaiman Momodu, who last week was reported to have been arrested, is now said to have gone into hiding, the AFP reported.
***Three reporters, describing themselves as "free-thinking members" of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, announced Tuesday they would defy warnings given to the news media Saturday by Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer and Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe to submit their news to a censor, and vowed to go underground to publish news "of the war, rebel atrocities, corruption in high places and abuse of human rights" over the internet. The group, calling itself the National Independent Neutral Journalists' Association of Sierra Leone (The NINJAS), said in a statement: "Journalists in Sierra Leone respect Brigadier Khobe. We appreciate the immense feat he performed last February with the help of the presently-absent Sandline mercenaries. However, we cannot allow our profession to be reduced to producers of censored news reports...We appeal to Dr Spencer and Brigadier Khobe to understand that we are not rebel sympathisers or collaborators. But a journalist just cannot afford to lose his independence or his neutrality in reporting stories."
***British Junior Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons told the House of Lords Wednesday that Britain had moved to "express to the government of Sierra Leone our concerns" over the arrests of journalists in Sierra Leone last week, including two BBC correspondents. "We have asked the High Commission to point out that, while we understand the effects of inaccurate reporting on the fighting, we look to the government of Sierra Leone to see what can be done to ensure accuracy, for example, by means of daily bulletins on the security situation," she said in response to a question by Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury. Symons told peers Sierra Leone was facing many daunting challenges, including a grave humanitarian crisis, but that the Sierra Leone government was doing its best to build a better future for its people.
***United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, has complained to the Sierra Leone government about the continued detention of journalists in Sierra Leone, U.N. Spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Wednesday. BBC correspondents Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay and Sylvester Rogers were arrested on December 8 under emergency regulations for allegedly filing false reports and failing to clear their articles with a censor. Concord Times reported Sulaiman Momodu was arrested the following day after being interviewed by the BBC on the other arrests. Eckhard said the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) was offering the government help in interpreting the emergency power regulations "in a manner consistent with the right of freedom of expression".
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.