On October 9, 1997, I had my own personal experience. After an air raid on the Sierra Leone Military Headquarters by ECOMOG forces, the private home of President Tejan Kabbah was set ablaze by soldiers loyal to the AFRC military junta. The junta claimed that the burning was carried out by angry youths.
As a young and curious stringer for the BBC, I decided to visit the burnt-out house to file an eyewitness account of the damage. At the house, which was close to the Juba military barracks, I was accosted by irate soldiers. I was arrested and accused of being a reporter for the clandestine 98.1 FM pro-democracy radio. They started slapping and hitting me in the head with rifle butts and helmets. One of them restrained the others from continuing the beating. He asked me in Krio, the local parlance, whether I had filmed the burned out house. I protested to no avail. At this point they demanded to know my name. I hesitated before telling them. They seized my file from me to cross-check. As I was being dragged to their nearby check-point, one of them said in Krio: "Aha! He is that BBC reporter who says all bad things about us." Unfortunately, my file contained a copy of my newspaper, Vision, in which I had written an article titled "AFRC's Political Masturbation", with my by-line.
Seconds later I heard two gunshots. It took a while before I realised that I had been shot in my right leg -- the tibia bone was fractured. I couldn't walk any longer and so decided to hop on my left leg. They started hitting me again with their rifle butts and helmets. I fell several times, but was forced to get up as they kicked me with their boots. I managed to hop until we reached their check-point. The others that were manning the post joined in the beating. I can vividly remember one of them attempting to pull his trigger on me when a sergeant stopped him, saying: "Don't kill him yet. He has some vital information to pass on to us."
As they busied themselves going through my diary, the arrival of an Army major, who identified me as a journalist, saved me from having my eyes gouged out. He ordered that I should be taken to the hospital. The soldiers commandeered a passing white Mercedes Benz car and placed me in the boot, where two men who introduced themselves as the ‘People's Army’ (RUF rebels) joined me. They drove me to the house of former head of state J.S. Momoh, who is believed to have been an active participant in the AFRC junta.
While there, my back was burnt with lit polyethylene bags, as the soldiers and their rebel colleagues continued beating me. In one instance, a rebel soldier ordered me to open my mouth. He inserted his genitals into my mouth and urinated, sealed my lips and repeatedly hit me in the head until I swallowed the urine.
I was later taken to a military hospital where I was literally abandoned for almost two days. On the third day, I was given a toxic injection, which, you may imagine, I thought would be lethal. However, I was transferred in time to the government’s Connaught hospital, where I was in the safe hands of the French non-governmental organisation Medecin Sans Frontiers (MSF).
While the majority of
us were facing the brutality of the AFRC junta, some of our colleagues
were busy dining with them. The consequences of that have been
far-reaching. One of the best-known newspapers in the country has
proscribed itself. The paper, Expo Times, acted contrary to the stance
taken by the SLAJ that no journalist should have anything to do with the
AFRC, including not recognising the junta. Expo Times blatantly
supported the junta, thereby endangering the lives of colleagues, who
stood by the association's directive. Consequently, when the junta was
flushed out in February 1998, Expo Times staff went into hiding.