|THAT EXPO TIMES STORY|
Seaga Shaw and Expo Times
From: Joan Mower
To: John Owen; Hilda Hatz
Subject: FW: Seaga Shaw and Expo Times
Sent: 16/03/01 09:40
Hilda-Could you please give this to Seaga Shaw? It's some feedback. FYI to John
Sent: Friday, March 16, 2001 5:45 AM
Subject: Seaga Shaw and Expo Times
I heard with dismay and utter disbelief this morning on the BBC NETWORK Africa programme the utterings of a live guest on the programme, Seaga Shaw who says he receives funding from your organisation.
One thing the programme succeeded in doing was to make me search for your web site. My first visit--and I am heartened by the fact that there is such an organisation that above all promotes free press, free speech and I like the free spirit bit. You need to have the spirit of the free in you to appreciate the yearnings of those who wish to be liberated from the shackles of repressive regimes.
And that is why I find it particularly disturbing that an organisation with such high ideals could fund Seaga Shaw and the Expo Times.
In all my years of journalism, I have come to appreciate the diverse views of not only those people and events that we report about, but of media practitioners who could be in the business for one reason or the other. Fine, very fine and democratic. It may sound a bit odd but I do not condemn any situation in which a colleague would be in cahoots with a repressive regime. What I abhor and which I believe is against the tenets of free speech--is where a colleague, not satisfied with gains from his association would use that to finger colleagues for elimination.
I had been reporting for the BBC in Freetown, Sierra Leone before the 1997 coup that brought in the Johnny Paul junta. I reported on some of the widespread atrocities, never before witnessed in Sierra Leone, committed by the junta. Some of these are well documented on some web sites, but there are more despicable ones that never got to the attention of the free press and which as I speak to you now brings on those horrors anew.
And all the time when these massive human rights abuses were been committed, Seaga Shaw was there and consenting--hardly mentioning the atrocities committed by the junta.
Please try to find out just how in the days following the very bloody coup he acquired a Mercedes benz car and how he got fuel at a time when that was in short supply.
Please be so good as to ask him for back issues of his newspaper. There was one piece under `letters to the editor` in which I was roundly condemned as been anti-junta even as mass gangs armed with kalashnikovs, machetes, clubs and petrol went about in search of me. But for the grace of god and the actions of other persecuted journalists, I would have been very very dead.
Please ask Seaga Shaw about any article that he ever carried in his newspaper that condemned the rampant human right abuses of the junta before I was forced out of the country in early September 1997 and thereafter.
Please contact genuine journalists who were forced to flee for their lives and who are either still in Freetown or in other countries. The continued hatred for pro-democrat journalists by the rebels are documented in stories of colleagues listed for elimination and the 1999 invasion of Freetown paints a clear picture as journalists were brutally hunted.
I am not talking of cronies of his, but genuine colleagues who believe in your ideals.
Also please be so good as to ask Seaga Shaw what became of his colleagues on the newspaper who could have got away like him but were abandoned when the junta was overthrown.
So to hear him talk about getting funding from you, in my opinion, is not only an insult to freedom-loving colleagues but to all those who perished or have to live with amputations in Sierra Leone.
Let us all hold up high the ideals of democracy and freedom.
I do not believe that your organisation should be rewarding evil!!!
Seaga Shaw's reaction
It was indeed the Freedom Forum European Centre Director, John Owen, who drew my attention to the contents of Victor Sylver's letter, copy of which had been forwarded to him by the Forum's African centre based in South Africa. I was shocked but far from surprised. This is because I knew, and I still know, deep down my heart that with all the encouragement I've been receiving from majority of Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad, as well as other well-wishers in my die-hard struggle to re-establish myself and my newspaper, there may still be the very few likes of Victor Sylver who may attempt to pull me down. And that is exactly the sum total of what Victor Sylver sought to achieve in that letter full of bile, jealousy and intellectual dishonesty. I'm however consoled by the fact Victor Sylver would never succeed in tarnishing the reputation I've been able to build for my self and my newspaper despite all odds.
When my colleagues at the Expo Times, Kofi and Osman, read the letter, they went ballistic and suggested that I seek legal action. But my friends at the Freedom advised against the idea of legal action for libel as the only winners will be the lawyers who will end up making a lot of money. They advised that I write him requesting permission to publish his letter in my newspaper along side my reaction as a way of provoking a public debate on the charges, all of which are totally baseless. My colleagues and I heeded the advice and settled for the latter.
The following day I sent Victor Sylver an e-mail requesting permission to publish his letter along side my reaction. But he didn't even have the courtesy to send me a reply let alone accept my request. After waiting for almost a week I sent him a reminder. But still no reply. I felt snubbed and disappointed but again far from surprised. Perhaps he was shocked to learn that his letter finally landed in my hands. I however warned him in the last message that if I don't hear from him, I will interpret his silence to mean consent and go ahead with the publication reminding him that after all he had already gone public by sending the letter out to one of my paper's potential funding organisations.
Since I'm a very busy man, editing and uploading the web site as well as co-ordinating the print version in Freetown on line, I will only attempt a brief, but to the point, reply to all the charges levied against my person and that of my newspaper. The rest I prefer to leave to readers and colleagues who were living witnesses one way or the other to some of the events and developments Victor Silver tried to recount in his letter. I hope some of those who have time can join this discussion by sending letters to help bring out the truth, and nothing but the truth.
Just as I was planning to write my reaction I received a readers' letter on Sunday March 25 from a colleague, Joseph Sherman, former editor of Sierra Leone's Foot Prints Newspaper, now based in Washington. He was reacting to news that Paul Kamara, of the so-called For Di People newspaper, attacked my newspaper on it's second coming on the news-stands in Sierra Leone calling on the authorities to ban it for allegedly supporting the former AFRC junta. The timing of Sherman's letter was no less appropriate. At least this letter went at great lengths in vindicating me from some of the baseless charges made by Victor Silver.
I was particularly consoled by Sherman when he wrote in that letter published bellow where he said: `In spite of the vulnerability of your staff especially from the Nigerian occupational army, EXPO TIMES indeed braved the storm by exposing the schemes of both the Nigerian army and the rebels. This statement from a neutral colleague flies in the face of the charge made by Victor that I was in Sierra Leone consenting the human right abuses of the rebel junta and never carried a line in my newspaper about such abuses. I'm sure this should be enough to leave him (Victor) scurrying for cover. And Sherman was reacting to Paul Kamara, and not Victor.
But it is not difficult to see how both of them are partners in both pro-government journalism and pull-him-down (PHD) syndrome. The truth of the matter is when Seaga Shaw and his colleagues were busy exposing the atrocities committed by both the junta rebels and the Nigerian led ECOMOG troops, as well as pro-Kabbah militias, Victor Sylver was telling the world in his despatches to the BBC Focus on Africa that all the atrocities against innocent civilians in Sierra Leone during the period under review were committed by the rebel junta soldiers. For Victor Silver, the atrocities committed by ECOMOG troops against civilians in broad daylight were not human right abuses because they sought to restore the so-called democratically elected government.
Victor was among those few journalists who helped the western media to misinform the world that all the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone were the handiwork of rebels. Thanks to the Sorious Samoura CRY FREETOWN award winning footage, which at least helped to change that perception a little by telling the world that, after all, both sides of the conflict committed violations. At least it's on record that a journalist was shot to death in broad aye light by an ECOMOG soldier acting under the advice of a local militia was merely trying to settle old scores with the journalist.
I thought Victor could have been bold enough to include in his letter what finally forced him into exile during the AFRC junta rule. I'm sure he would not want the Freedom Forum and others to know that he was hounded by angry civilians who felt betrayed and frustrated over his report to the world that some 20 coffins, containing people (including their relatives) killed by missiles thrown from ECOMOG's base in Lungi and displayed at the National Stadium, had no corpses in them but stones.
Those civilians would find it difficult to forgive Victor Sylver for been so heartless as to allow his sentiments to come into naked play into his career as a journalist whose duty it's to tell it as it is and not as he wants it even when it's a big terrible lie.
This brings me to Victor's other charge that I carried a readers' letter attacking him as he was chased out of the country.
I remember publishing a letter from one frustrated civilian whose relative was among those killed by the Nigerian bombs. The reader merely vented his anger at Victor in the letter. I published that letter in keeping with my paper's policy of allowing members of the public to vent out their feelings in the LETTERS column on matters affecting their lives in the spirit of free speech and there was absolutely no malice intended against the person of Victor Sylver, who in any case had, and still has, the right of reply.
Coming to the issue of the Mercedes Benz, I think Victor has only succeeded in exposing himself as very a naïve and envious colleague. He insinuated that I acquired my Mercedes Benz illegally although he did not supply specifics. He also failed to mention that I had changed two cars before acquiring the Benz car he alluded to in his letter.
I first had a Datsun car and later a flashy Toyota Camry sport car, which in actual fact was among many cars commandeered by junta rebels in the wake of the notorious AFRC coup. I never set eyes on it again.
A month later I had cause to buy a used Mercedes Benz car from one Used Car Dealer at Goderich Street in Freetown called Amadu Bah. When the Pro-government militia radio 98.1 and the so-called For Di People attacked me for driving an allegedly commandeered car, I had cause to publish to all documents pertaining to the purchase of the car, including custom and port clearances to clear my name. I've sent for the original copy of that paper which I intend to scan and publish in due cause.
I'm sure Sylver was envious to see a young man like Seaga Shaw driving flashy cars including the much talked about Benz when he couldn't even lay claim to a motor bike not to talk of owning or driving a car with all his many years as a BBC stringer.
When the junta was forcefully removed and the Kabbah Government returned, a campaign of revenge on the part of pro-government militias and fanatics became the norm. And so all those accused of collaborating with the junta were targeted.
After fleeing the situation, the government militias seized my Mercedes car. But after investigating how I acquired the car for almost a year, the police detectives released the car to my younger brother in Freetown.
The police records are there for every one interested to go and see. This was enough to lay to rest the issue of that car.The outcome of the police investigation no doubt vindicated me that I indeed acquired the car genuinely out of my sweat as a successful publisher and editor.
But no the few Victor Sylvers and the Paul Kamaras would not allow the Benz issue to rest even if Scotland Yard is invited to establish the truth. And for Silver to charge that I was bent on fingering colleagues because I was not satisfied with my work as I journalist and as such was out to seek favours from the Junta borders on intellectual dishonesty.
Victor ought to wake up and live to the reality that my paper, which won two best newspaper awards in a row in 1996 and 1997, was one of the most, if not the most successful, newspapers in the country in both it's marketability and acceptability. I was happy as a Proprietor/Editor and therefore did not see myself currying favours from any political class, be it a junta or a so-called democratic government.
May be Victor and Paul were currying favours from the then exiled Kabbah government. To conclude I would like to remind Victor Sylver that my editorial stance on the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone remain unchanged. I'm also happy to announce that this is the popular thinking of a majority of Sierra Leoneans.
I'm still determined to run my newspaper as an independent voice of the voiceless masses who rely on us to help in the process of empowering and liberating them, to quote Sylver, from the shackles of repressive regimes, of which the so called democratically elected Kabbah government is no exception.
As I write this piece, a state of Emergency regulation, a recipe for dictatorship, is still in force in Sierra Leone and the government has banned public discussion on the political future of the country. Just the other day militias apparently acting on behalf of the government threatened to kill my paper's Sierra Leone Bureau editor, Osman Foday Koroma for working for Expo Times. For Paul and Victor that is the democracy worth shedding blood for. I will stop here for now and allow others to join the discussion.
.........AND THE WOES OF JOURNALIST DAVID TAM-BARYOH FOR DARING TO CROSS THE PATH OF JUNTA BENEFICIARY AND SUPPORTER IBRAHIM SEAGA SHAW IN 1997.....(NOW PARADING HIMSELF AS A "PERSECUTED JOURNALIST". ATTEMPTS AT RE-INVENTION CONTINUES...)