Section 25 (1) of the country’s 1991 Constitution promotes and protects freedom of expression as well as press freedom.
“Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purpose of this section the said freedom includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, freedom from interference with his correspondence, freedom to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions, and academic freedom in institutions of learning”.
Meanwhile, public relations officer of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, lawyer Abu Bakarr Turay, said they were not supportive of the view of the government to censor social media.
“Free speech is entrenched in Section 25 of the Constitution…trying to stifle or take out a release like that would jeopardize free speech and we also believe as an association that they [government] don’t have the right since you cannot quote any law that is actually being breached by whatsapp group administrators. The question is what is the law regarding whatsapp?”
Turay explained that there was no law in the supreme law book of Sierra Leone that limited free speech.
A former junta leader and presidential candidate of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio, said that free speech must not be stifled by any government or any organisation.
“Criticism and mockery are part of a leadership”, he said.
A member and campaign leader of the pressure group Renaissance Movement, lawyer Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, said the country’s police force were limiting the right to freedom of assembly and of association as entrenched in the Constitution.
“Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association. That is to say, his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to any political party, trade unions or other economic, social or professional associations, national or international, for the protection of his interests”, he said.
But the minister of information and communication, Mohamed Bangura, said the opposition politician did not have the credential to talk about free speech, claiming that both the National Provisional Ruling Council, the junta regime he headed and democratically elected SLPP government, had “incarcerated, molested journalists and muzzled free speech and press freedom and closed down media institutions”.
“I pity the Sierra Leone Police because we also accused them while we were in opposition and referred to them as SLPP police. Now the police are doing their job to protect lives and property and they refer to them as APC police,” Bangura said, adding that because of the economic challenges and unemployment rate people would take advantage of the situation of very genuine citizens.
“Sierra Leoneans have forgotten about the flimsy rumours that fanned the flames of our war. As a government and a minister I will not seat by and allow the interest of few people to jeopardise the interest of Sierra Leoneans in the name of social media. You can call me a benevolent dictator, I will take it because that dictatorship will protect lives and property of Sierra Leoneans”, the minister added.