The reason behind the 1965 Public Order Act in the first place between 1964 and 1967 as early post independent political atmosphere was very charged was to silent dissenting voices and at the same time impugned the freedoms of the people
As a result of the politically charged atmosphere and the fact that the then opposition All People Congress (APC) Party under Siaka Stevens grew stronger and bigger and posed serious challenge to the political survival of the then ruling Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP) under Prime Minister Albert Margai, the SLPP became politically insecure and started drafting draconian laws such as the 1965 Public Order Act to elongated their stay in office.
This law was amongst the first seeds of politically bigotry that ushered in dictatorial tendencies and at the same time, put fundamental human rights such as the right to protest and free speech in a tight room that should be determined by the state.
In this law, Part 5 criminalizes libel in Sierra Leone and at the same time doesn’t consider truth as a defense which incidentally has hindered the progress and development of journalism in the county.
This bad law that was passed in 1965 has haunted all political parties one way or the other in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leone should learn from it.
For 55 years since this bad law was promulgated, politicians have condemned it only when they are in opposition and the law was used as tool to tame them but no sooner the table turns and they are in power than they realized the law is good for political revenge.
It is believed that even all putsch regimes in Sierra Leone have used this law as a reason for them gaining power by the bullet as opposed to ballot but no attempt was made to remove it.
In 2007, the recent past President of Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma in the Agenda for Change APC Manifesto which was later translated into a government development document, promised that he will remove this law.
Like always, most people held the views that it was a political game to get the backing of the media and that he (Koroma) never meant it.
When Koroma was elected and became President, he was friendly to the media, dishing out position and other largesse to media practitioners but when the media began to look into his activities, the language of Koroma changed from “REPEAL” to REVIEW.
In his second term in office, this same man that was very affable to the media, became very angry as the media stood up against the ills of society and he stated, “the honeymoon with the media is over.”
This statement got media practitioners worried and they then realized that all this while they have been used as a mean to an end. So, it is now in history, that the REPEAL of the 1965 Public Order Act is one of the unfulfilled or better put failed promises of the President Koroma’s reign.
Like Koroma, President Bio made a similar promise in page 72 of his New Direction Manifesto which states, “in the New Direction, the next SLPP government will introduce the following reforms for the common good: Repeal the seditious libel law…”
Bio even reiterated his commitment in his recent State Opening of Parliament Address in which he said, “to that end government is firmly committed to repealing the criminal libel law.”
At the Presidential and executive level, the commitment has been backed up with visible actions that has given media practitioners and the general populace some form of optimism.
True to his commitment, President Bio is the first leader to have gone this far to ensure that a bill is drafted and taken to Parliament for REPEAL.
On the day, the bill was laid in Parliament, only three members of Parliament-Hon Tawa Conteh, Hon Chernoh Maju Bah and Hon IB Kargbo made comments in favor of repealing this law but all the others who spoke on that day were not in favor of the law and they started raising one issue and another on their encounter with the media.
It is disingenuous for a bill to have been in the house of Parliament for three months, having gone through all the stages, only for it to be kicked out on technically grounds created by the very members of Parliament.
It means that we have lazy Parliamentarians who are paid by the people but are refusing to do what they are sent in the house to do.
The explanation of the leader of Government Business, Hon Mathew Nyuma is not in place because I don’t think Parliament should be so lackadaisical in doing one of his core functions which is legislation on the pretext that the IMC Act should be strengthened when even President Bio’s language has been consistent about REPEAL and not REPLACEMENT.
Besides there is the Civil Libel Law in Sierra Leone which is an adequate replacement and even the current IMC Act as it is, is well in place to serve as a suitable substitution for the horrible Criminal Libel Law.
After all, we are in this country when ‘Nicodemus Bills and Agreements” were passed into law by that Parliament at mid night for which the people of this country are still feeling the pangs.
Now that this has happened, journalists and the general populace are beginning to think that the glass is half empty and that the SLPP Government of Bio is playing a shrewd political game which will shift the responsibility to a Parliament dominated by the SLPP for which the Speaker and the Leader of Government Business are both SLPP.