The umbrella Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has condemned the alleged assault on two of its members by members of the presidential guard and called for justice.
The incident, which reportedly occurred on Sunday, 8 September 2019, during a match between the national team – Leone Stars – and their Liberian counterparts, has left media practitioners and human rights activists in shock and disappointment.
According to reports, the unidentified members of President Julius Maada Bio’s security team guards assaulted the journalists, both of whom are female, while they commentated the match. It was the return leg of the qualifying match for the 2023 World Cup.
Liberia defeated Sierra Leone in the first leg in Monrovia. While the Sierra Leoneans won their home match, they failed to score enough to continue in the qualifier.
The match was preceded by reports of violence meted out to the Liberians by irate fans of the Sierra Leonean side who were unhappy with the way their team was treated in Monrovia. The violence provoked condemnation from both President Julius Maada Bio and his Liberian counterpart
In an apparent show of sportsmanship, President Bio decided to grace the match at the
National Stadium. Sources say it was during a routine check by his security detail that they had the unfortunate encounter with the journalists.
Both journalists – Francess Bernard and Esther Marie Samura, work for the state broadcaster SLBC.
In a statement, the SLAJ said the treatment contradict the president’s commitment to freedom of the press and security of journalists.
“SLAJ is more than disheartened that armed State Security operatives can beat up defenseless women in full view of the public, at a time when the government of Sierra Leone has been telling the world about respect for women and girls,” the statement signed by the association’s Secretary General, Mohamed Asmeu Bah, read in part.
It added: “SLAJ therefore calls on the office of the President and the Sierra Leone Police to speedily investigate and institute action against those responsible for the attack on those journalists.”
The journalists were both members of the Sports Writers Association, an affiliate of SLAJ. The Association also issued a statement condemning the act and calling for investigation, as did the Sierra Leone Reporters Union.