Journalist spend night in police custody over text to Chief Minister

By Mohamed Kabba

A renowned journalist and publisher Sallieu Tejan Jalloh was on Monday 11th November 2019 arrested by police officers attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Jalloh was arrested in connection with a short messaging service (sms) he had sent to the country’s Chief Minister Prof. David Francis over an alleged irregular payment into the minister’s account.

The publisher of Times Sierra Leonean Newspaper, is said to have been pursuing an investigative story on an alleged payment of $1.5 million on diverse dates into an EcoBank account believed to be a private account of the Chief Minister, and a certain kickback payment of $500,000 by SL Mining Company to the minister.

According to Social Media postings, the journalist, sent an SMS text message to the Chief Minister requesting for clarification into an alleged payment of $1.5 million by SL Mining Company into the EcoBank account of the Chief Minister, and that the Chief Minister ordered the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) to arrest and detain the journalist.

The postings also alleged that the head of The Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Francis Ben Keifala instructed the police to effect the arrest of the journalist.

Jalloh, in an exclusive interview with Salone Fact Checker said,

“Two weeks ago, based on their (4 investigative journalists) source, it was alleged that certain payments were made on diverse dates into an account at the EcoBank amounting to $1.5 million. Our sources said the said account belongs to the Chief Minister and that, prior to the cancellation of the mining license of SL Mining Company by the government, they gave a kickback of $800,000 to the Chief Minister to prevent the cancellation of their mining license.”

And so, based on those tips, the Journalist decided to crosscheck their information with the minister, he explained.

“We decided to send an SMS text to the Minister enquiring about the alleged payment of $1.5 million and the kickback from SL Mining,” he narrated.

After four days, he explained, he received a call from an unknown number. It would later turn out to be the ACC boss, Ben Keifala.

Sallieu said the ACC boss told him that he was calling based on report made to him by the Chief Minister regarding the text message he sent. He said the ACC boss further requested him to go to his office and handover whatever information he had about the Chief Minister to the Commission for investigation.

But in a quick rejoinder, Jalloh reminded the ACC boss, “As a journalist, it is not my duty to give information we are investigating to the ACC, stating that ACC is in good position to demand for the information from the bank if they so desire to investigate it. I decided to hang up on the ACC boss.”

The Publisher said at around 6:45pm in the evening of Monday 11th November 2019, he received a call from an unknown individual purporting that he wanted to place an advert on his newspaper for Tuesday 12th November publication. He said he directed the individual to the location of his officer on Soldier Street and later showed up.

Jalloh said after discussion with the person, he was requested to accompany him to his vehicle along the Main Circular Road, where it was parked. He said upon arrival on the scene, two other huge guys disembarked from across the street and arrested him and forcefully put him into the vehicle and was taken to the CID headquarter on Pademba Road in Freetown.

Before his release the Office of the Chief Minister Prof. David Francis put out a Press Release on the allegation of USD $1.5 million and arrest of the journalist. The release alluded that the journalist sent a text message to the Chief Minister and that the Minister informed the ACC and CID reporting the text message as a case of extortion and harassment.

The Press Release stated that, “The Minister only owns an international travel card account at EcoBank for ease of official travels and therefore any payment of such colossal sum is both mischievous and profoundly ignorant.”

The release further noted that, “Prof. David J. Francis did not give any instruction for the detention of journalist but however strongly believes that the police should carry out criminal investigation on serious allegations without undue pressure”.

Immediately after the press release from the Office of the Chief Minister, SL Mining Company put out statement confirming that such payment does not exist.

The following day, Wednesday 13th November 2019, the ACC also put out a press release: “ACC enquires into allegations of corruption against Chief Minister.”

The Commission confirmed that they were informed by the Chief Minister about the text from journalist Sallieu Tejan Jalloh, alleging that a total of $1.5 million was paid into the Minister’s EcoBank account as bribe.

The press releases from the Officer of the Chief Minister and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) both denied giving order to the SLP for the arrest of journalist.

It was confirmed by the police and the Salone Fact Checker team that the journalist was arrested and detained at the CID headquarters in Freetown but was not clear as to who gave the order leading to the said arrest.

The head of SLP Media Superintendence Brima Kamara in an exclusive interview said police used section 17(10(f) of the 1991 Constitution and Section 13 of the Criminal Procedure Act, that talk of positive accusation that may lead to arrest and detention of any suspect, and subsequent arrest Journalist Jalloh.

According to Section 17(1)(f) of the 1991 constitution, which deals with ‘Protection from arbitrary arrest and detention’ it states that, “No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty except as may be authorized by law in any of the following cases, that is to say, upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed or of being about to commit a criminal offence.”

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