From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Local News
In Sierra Leone, Sylvia Blyden Makes Second Appearance; Bail Changed to 100 Million for Publishing False Statement
By Bintu Aminata Sesay
May 22, 2009, 17:24

The Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of one of the leading and most widely circulated newspapers in Sierra Leone, Awareness Times, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, yesterday Thursday 21st May 2009, made her second appearance at Court No.1 presided over by Magistrate Steven Conteh, to answer to charges related to libel against the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma in an alleged conspiracy to bring disaffection between himself and his wife, the First Lady Sia Koroma.

Sylvia Blyden Surrounded by supporters in Court

The drama that unfolded in court yesterday, left many who had stormed the court room to witness the hearings with the impression that a well orchestrated high level State plan is underway to jeopardize the safety of the Awareness Times publisher.

Apparently, some people seem unhappy with the granting of Dr. Blyden of a self bail (released on her own recognizance) the day before, when they had speculated that she would be denied bail and yanked off to be kept behind bars.

Impeccable sources intimate that court sessions at Court No. 1 normally start any time after 10:00am and that this has been the normal practice since the current Presiding Magistrate took over.

As if something extraordinary was planned, yesterday’s court sittings at Court No. 1 started well before 10:00am, much to the surprise and suspicion of all present to witness the proceedings.

The Lead Prosecutor in the matter, Robin Mason, who happens to be the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), yesterday entered the court room as early as 9:00am and immediately the Magistrate hurried into the Court, DPP announced the absence of Dr. Sylvia Blyden, who had earlier left for the ladies’ room. Blyden’s relatives who had been seated next to her in the Court made a loud appeal that she had just stepped out of the court but the DPP vehemently kicked against this calling for an immediate ‘Bench Warrant’ to be made and for her bail to be seized and for her to be sent off to Pademba Road Prisons. His request was granted speedily by the Presiding Magistrate.

However, even before the Warrant could be penned down and signed, Blyden stepped back into the Court but was then told she was under arrest. The DPP had by then walked out brushing past Blyden’s lawyers in the corridors who had been expecting the Court to start at its usual time. All of this including Blyden’s re-appearance in Court, occurred well before 10:00am.

Her Lawyers, who also appealed for the matter to be re-mentioned, got brushed aside by the Presiding Magistrate who said he would only re-open the matter and rescind the Warrant if the DPP Robbin Mason came back into the Court.

Fortunately, another lawyer, Kweku Lisk Esq. had a matter involving the DPP himself on the other side and he mentioned the matter which was stood down in order to wait for the DPP to come back into the Court. After about half an hour, a message was relayed back to the Court from the Law Officers’ Department that although the DPP had other matters to handle in that court like the one involving Kweku Lisk, the DPP had made a decision not to return back to that Court yesterday.

There was an uproar which caused the Presiding Magistrate to order for ‘Silence in Court!’

Eventually, after several other local lawyers added themselves ‘pro-bono’ to Blyden’s Defence Team, the Presiding Magistrate saw reason to re-allow the matter to be re-mentioned and then he admonished Sylvia Blyden that next time if she was leaving a court in which she had a matter pending, she should tell the Court Clerk that she was going to the toilets.

However, the Lead Defense Counsel, Lawyer Ngakui, whilst profusely apologizing for the absence of Dr. Blyden at the specific moment in time, noted that she had not been inside the court room but within the Court’s precincts in the ladies room. He also pointed out that it was a matter of seconds between the matter being called, the Bench Warrant granted and Blyden showing up again from the toilets.

Although Magistrate Steven Conteh accepted the apology of Lawyer Ngakui on behalf of Dr. Blyden, he however revisited her "self-bail" conditions and imposed a total bail of one hundred million leones and two sureties. The Court then requested for landed conveyances which were all submitted before Blyden was set free from the Courts at around 3:15pm.

One of Sylvia Blyden’s sureties was the dynamic President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Umaru Fofana who dropped everything he was doing yesterday including an important BBC international assignment, so as to get to the Courts. He quickly filled out the Bail Forms, submitted passport photos and signed all necessary documents in support of Blyden’s Bail. Fofana met scores of angry journalists and other human rights activists already at the courts.

Meanwhile, a press release from State House yesterday informed that the President/Head of State had ‘hosted’ some members of Sierra Leone’s Justice Sector inside his offices for a closed doors tête-à-tête. The exact contents of the discussions were not revealed. However, many people now know that several powerful persons were not at all happy with the Judiciary for the decision to grant a ‘self-bail’ condition to Sylvia Blyden in a matter that involved the Head of State himself as a possible complainant.

The matter itself has been adjourned to Tuesday May 26th 2009 when the State will start its prosecution of Sylvia Blyden for a matter of ‘conspiracy to incite disaffection within the President’s marital home by publishing a false statement’.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.