PRESS freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged authorities in Sierra Leone to immediately drop all charges against a reporter who was allegedly attacked by soldiers and then arrested as he covered a new Covid-19 quarantine centre.
In a statement late on Tuesday, the CPJ said at least 10 soldiers attacked Standard Times journalist Fayia Amara Fayia in the eastern city of Kenema city on April 1, hitting him with their guns and kicking him before seizing his phone after he photographed the centre.
Fayia told the CPJ over the phone that the soldiers then arrested him, accusing him of assaulting one of them.
If convicted of the assault, disorderly behaviour and obstruction of security duties charges, Fayia could face up to three months in prison and a fine.
‘Authorities in Sierra Leone should be working to beat the coronavirus, not the press. It is beyond outrageous that … Fayia has been charged with assault and disorderly conduct after being attacked by soldiers,’ CPJ’s Africa program coordinator Angela Quintal said.
According to real-time data website Worldometer, the West African country has recorded 104 confirmed cases of the coronavirus first detected in China last December. Four people have died from complications related to the disease, while 12 have recovered.
The CPJ said after two court appearances on April 15 and 21, authorities told Fayia his case was suspended amid a government lockdown to contain Covid-19.
A Sierra Leone police spokesperson told CPJ that he had not received a formal complaint regarding the assault on the journalist. A military spokesperson told the media rights group that the army did nothing wrong and asked it to provide evidence showing Fayia was attacked.
Like many other African countries, Sierra Leone has imposed travel restrictions to try and curb new transmissions of Covid-19.
A government statement posted on the ministry of health and sanitation’s Twitter account on Sunday said authorities were introducing an electronic pass ‘to improve on the efficiency and transparency in the management of passes for movement of persons and vehicles during periods of lockdowns or restrictions.’