Media organizations call on Sierra Leone to release editor

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Media rights organizations called on Sierra Leone authorities Saturday to release the managing editor of a local daily newspaper after his arrest on charges of publishing false information.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists released statements saying this is a case of political harassment which undermines the freedom of press.

Jonathan Leigh, managing editor of the Independent Observer, was arrested Thursday on accusations of publishing false information, the organizations said. The front-page article was about reports of political violence in Kono that killed at least three people ahead of local by-elections, they said.

"The detention of Jonathan Leigh and the threat of criminal prosecution is a troubling reminder that Sierra Leone continues to use colonial-era laws to undermine freedom of the press," said Peter Nkanga, West Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Authorities should immediately release Leigh and allow journalists to report on the lead up to elections unobstructed."

Officers took Leigh from his office late Thursday, obtained a statement from him and then detained him, the Sierra Leone association said. Leigh was denied bail, said Kelvin Lewis, Sierra Leone Association of Journalists president. Under the 1965 Public Order Act, anyone found guilty of publishing false news can be fined and given up to two years in prison.

Leigh has been arrested previously. In October 2013, Leigh was held on charges of sedition and libel over a story criticizing President Ernest Bai Koroma, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Sierra Leone association expressed concern about the persistent arrests of journalists. Lewis called on President Koroma to follow through on a 2007 campaign promise to repeal certain criminal libel laws and the 1965 Public Order Act.

"Political harassment of journalists will not change or hide the truth," Lewis said.

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