The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) is deeply concerned about an alleged physical assault of journalist Munya Bawoh of All Out Radio 90.1FM by police officers in the Eastern regional headquarters town of Kenema on Friday 7th June 2024 and called the leadership of the Sierra Leone Police to speedily investigate and bring to book the alleged perpetrators.

According to a report from our regional office in Kenema, Eastern Region, Bawoh had a rendezvous with colleague journalist Jacob Ibrahim Sheriff at the Kenema Police Station to make a follow-up on a human interest story they were investigating. However, upon arrival at the police media office, he found it closed. Bawoh then decided to visit the charge office to greet an acquaintance. This happened between 12pm-1pm on Friday, 7th June 2024.

While at the charge office, the report states, that a group of visually impaired persons entered the police station with complaints about the arrest of one of their members by the police. Attempting to contact Jacob, Bawoh’s call was abruptly interrupted by a police officer who forcefully grabbed his phone and handed it over to the divisional crime officer. Feeling concerned and unsettled, Bawoh approached the divisional crime officer for clarification.

The report further states that the crime officer accused Bawoh of recording the incident, which he denied. To Bawoh’s shock, the divisional crime officer reacted aggressively by physically assaulting him when he denied recording the incident. More police officers allegedly arrived at the scene and accused Bawoh of disorderly behavior. Shockingly, the officers proceeded to physically assault him, resulting in his eyeglasses being broken. Subsequently, Bawoh was allegedly detained without any charge. He claimed he was abused by fellow inmates. He also claimed that Nle900 (Nine Hundred Leones) in his wallet and digital audio recorder were stolen.

Our SLAJ East Secretariat followed up on the matter and interviewed the divisional crime officer and support officer regarding the alleged assault and detention of Bawoh. According to police, no crime was committed, and Bawoh was placed in open detention due to an argument that had happened between him and certain police officers.

However, an eyewitness provided a contrasting account, revealing that Bawoh was severely beaten by specific police officers, including the Kenema divisional crime officer, the Secretariat found out.

According to eyewitness accounts, the crime officer allegedly instructed the custody officer to detain Bawoh for filming an incident involving the police and visually impaired persons. However, when confronted about the alleged instructions, the crime officer denied giving the order and claimed to be surprised by Bawoh’s detention. It is alleged that some officers felt threatened by Bawoh’s actions and resorted to violence against his person.

From their investigations, our regional office East confirmed that journalist Munya Bawoh was assaulted and detained for allegedly recording the incident between the police and visually impaired persons.

Our regional office has briefed the Commissioner of Police East on the matter and the police have endorsed Bawoh’s medical report. Furthermore, the Complaint Discipline Internal Investigation Department (CDID) of the police has taken a formal statement from the journalist.

“This is an unfortunate incident in light of the MoU with the security sector. We urge the leadership of the Sierra Leone Police to ensure their personnel across the country are fully aware of their commitment to ensure the safety and security of journalists in the line of duty. We believe the police will treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves and ensure the alleged perpetrators are accountable for their actions,” said SLAJ President Ahmed Sahid Nasralla.

Meanwhile, the Kenema police released Munya Bawoh to the Executive of SLAJ Eastern Region and handed over his mobile phone.