by Rachel Horner and Kevin Hill
Minister of Transport and Aviation Kemoh Sesay has denied all accusations leveled against him by Jonathan Leigh, editor of the Independent Observer, in a series of articles printed in January of this year.
The denials come in the trial of Mr. Leigh, who faces up to 7 years in prison under Sierra Leone’s criminal libel and false news laws. These laws punish those who are found to "excite disaffection" against the government or "injure the reputation" of government officials.
The minister denied the claims made in the Independent Observer including building a mansion in the first two months after taking office, accepting all-expense paid travel to Morocco, returning from an official visit to London with 25 cases of luggage, benefiting from ‘flag of convenience’ arrangements. He also denied claims of immoral behavior, including being divorced three time, having 6 children and a pregnant girlfriend.
The Minister agrees he did travel to Morocco, but as part of an official visit to negotiate a bilateral air service agreement between Sierra Leone and Morocco to establish a local air carrier in the country.
When asked about his reaction to the accusations in the Independent Observer, Sesay said “A lot of people talked to me about these articles, including the head of state. If what is said is true, then I am not qualified to be a minister.”
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has recently filed a lawsuit with Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court, seeking to overturn Sierra Leone's criminal libel and false news laws. The Association sees the laws as open to abuse by those in power, endangering the freedom of expression necessary for journalists to keep the public informed.
The tiny, poorly ventilated, court room number 5 was packed with observers, including Deputy Minister of Education, Youth and Sports Dr. Algassimu Jah. As the Minister left the courtroom, a crowd of supporters followed.
Lawyer for the accused, Ibrahim Sorie Koroma asked for an adjournment in order to prepare a cross examination of the Minister. The court case was remanded to Wednesday, April 3rd.