Banned opposition radio station in Sierra Leone goes to court

Sierra Leone’s largest opposition party has taken the country’s media monitoring body to court for banning its radio station. The Independent Media Commission (IMC) banned the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) station, Radio Unity, in March. This followed political clashes between the SLPP supporters and the ruling All Peoples’ Congress (APC). The APC’s station, Rising Sun, was also banned.

Just before the Rising Sun’s suspension, the station broadcast messages claiming the SLPP had mobilised former militia fighters at its Freetown office to unleash terror on city residents. The outcome of that broadcast was an attack on the SLPP at its Freetown office.

The SLPP and APC’s radio stations were taken off air for what the media watchdog says was “incitement and non-compliance with the media code of ethics”. The SLPP dismisses this charge, insisting the ban was politically motivated and had nothing to do with the reason given by the commission. The party also claims that the APC’s station was merely banned to justify the banning of Radio Unity. And it plans to fight its case in court.

“The IMC’s reason for banning our radio station was purely political. The ruling party knew our station was a thorn in its flesh, and so it was in its interests to take such a decision. We are now in court to seek redress,” claims Jacob Jusu Saffa, secretary-general of the SLPP.

The courts resume sittings at the end of December, after a three-month recess, and the SLPP application is expected to be heard then. It is expected to be followed with great interest, given that it is politically charged and also hinges on human rights, democracy and media freedom.