Sierra Leone: RESPONSE TO THE PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY THE COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT OF THE JUDICIARY OF SIERRA LEONE.

My attention has been drawn to a press release issued by the Communications Department of the Judiciary of Sierra Leone headed by and authored by Elkass Sannoh.

The release, not only attacked my person but also the Institution (Awoko Newspaper) I have worked for as News Editor for over six years now.

As a responsible and credible media house that prides itself in always maintaining a respectable stance in society, while demonstrating very high standards of professionalism, I as News Editor with the duty to assign reporters, have since assigned three (3) reporters to cover the Judiciary. From the Magistrate Courts to the High Courts and Supreme Court. This is to ensure that Awoko newspaper reports Court issues in a fair, objective and sober manner, and publish at least two court stories every day in our daily publications.

We have been doing this for the past two decades and more, without any complain from the Magistrates/Judges of misinforming the public on court proceedings.

On Wednesday 16th March 2022 after editorial consultations regarding the venue for the Tribunal set up by the Government for the suspended Auditor General and one of her deputies, I requested Madam Zainab Joaque, reporter of Awoko newspaper, to enquire from the Director of the Judiciary Communication Department, Elkass Sannoh about media accreditation to access the tribunal. This is after listening to Imran Sillah of the Strategic Communications Unit on SLBC “Gud morning Salone” program, where he disclosed that accreditations will be made available to anyone including Journalists who want to cover the trial.

According to Zainab, Elkass responded by saying “why Awoko always wants to make a fanfare out of the trial. There is an accreditation for AWOKO at all time”. On Thursday 17th March 2022 at 9:30am I instructed Mohamed J. Bah, our High Court Reporter to enquire from Francis H Murray, an official in the Judiciary Communications Department if they will be providing different accreditation from the one Journalists normally use to cover the Samura Kamara’s case. Francis responded in the affirmative assuring they are aware of the fact that there are two big cases within the same Court premise on the same date.

With this assurance, Mohamed J Bah immediately left for the Court to cover the Samura Kamara’s case while Zainab left the office at 11am to cover the Lara Taylor-Pearce’s tribunal. She reportedly arrived at the Law Court building Security post at around 11:10am which is about 50 minutes before the scheduled start of the tribunal.

Upon arrival Zainab met colleague Journalists waiting. According to the Journalists at the scene who called me to complain about the issue, in my capacity as the Acting Secretary General of SLAJ, they reported they had signed a sheet of paper and submitted their Press IDs to the Security personnel, who asked them to wait until 11:30am, when their accreditations will be available from the Communications Department to facilitate access to the tribunal/court room.

They said they spent some considerable time in the waiting room, before witnessing their other colleagues — Osman Kamara and Anthony Vandi — from Radio Democracy and EPIC Radio, being asked out of the court room on the allegation that they were not accredited. These colleagues joined them waiting for Elkass to come with their accreditations but he never did.

Elkass reportedly did not pick-up calls from Journalists whose contacts he had saved in his phone while they were trying to reach him. This includes Lawrence Williams the Publisher and Editor of Fritong Post Newspaper.

The Journalists reported that while waiting, they watched helplessly while various Civil Society representatives came and accessed the court room after receiving their accreditations. Meanwhile they continued to wait for Elkass who was assigned to attend to them.

The only journalist who was later allowed to access the court room among those waiting was Osman Kamara of 98.1FM. He was granted access after the trial had already started leaving the rest begging for them to be given access or at least stand by the windows and listen so they can report accurately.

The essence of Journalists going to the court is to get information to inform members of the Public who are unable to witness proceedings.

The release issued by the Communication Department confirmed the statement I issued on Thursday 17th March 2022 in my capacity as Acting Secretary General of SLAJ and not as News Editor Awoko Newspaper.

For Elkass Sannoh to issue a release attacking my person and my institution when I was acting in the interest of several journalists who had been affected by his action or inaction, only demonstrates the unprofessional way in which the Judicial Communications Unit is being administered, and calls into question the very integrity of the institution whose duty it is to administer justice to Sierra Leoneans.

Below are the names of several Journalists who complained to SLAJ that were denied entry to cover the Lara Taylor Pearce tribunal.

-Lahai Jackson- CTN radio

-Lawrence Williams- Publisher Fritong post newspaper

-Alfred Koroma-Concord Times newspaper

-Zainab Joaque- Awoko newspaper

-Osman Kamara- Radio Democracy, 98.1

-Anthony Vandy-Producer Epic radio

-Samuel J. Kargbo-Managing Editor, Times newspaper, among others

Several publications today Friday 18th March 2022, including Awoko newspaper, Concord Times newspaper and even the report on the Good morning show of 98.1 among others highlighted the issue.

I trust the public will now judge between Alhaji Manika Kamara Acting Secretary General SLAJ and News Editor Awoko Newspaper and the Judiciary Communications Department headed by Elkass Sannoh who is deceiving the public.

It is sad that journalists who are supposed to report the news have now become the subject of the news story.

I remain ALHAJI MANIKA KAMARA

News Editor Awoko Newspaper

Friday 18th March, 2022

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