Freetown: Sierra Leone said Tuesday it was holding a journalist in a notorious prison because he had accused the government of provoking the kind of unrest seen in Burkina Faso through mismanagement of the Ebola crisis.
David Tam Baryoh, host of the weekly "Monologue" programme on the private Citizen FM, has become a cause celebre in the west African nation since he was arrested a week ago on the orders of President Ernest Bai Koroma.
He was detained in Freetown`s maximum security Pademba Road jail after the show was taken off air during a live broadcast on November 1, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), citing local media.
Attorney General Frank Kargbo said in a written statement released to AFP that the host had made "inflammatory statements" questioning the government`s deployment of troops across the country, which has seen some 1,100 deaths in the Ebola epidemic raging in west Africa.
"His insinuation of recent events in Burkina Faso (being) replicated in Sierra Leone, a country still reeling from a devastating conflict and presently dealing with an Ebola epidemic of unparalelled magnitude, is not only distasteful but an attempt to provoke unrest," he added.
Baryoh`s arrest has sent shockwaves through Freetown media and civil society, which has raised concerns over the emergency powers used to detain the journalist being a threat to freedom of speech.
Pademba Road was built for 324 inmates but currently houses around 1,200. Government health experts have linked deaths among prisoners to acute malnutrition, lack of hygienic conditions and malaria.
Baryoh suffers from high blood pressure, according to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, which has urged the authorities to provide "urgent medical attention".
Fourteen civil society groups released a joint statement Tuesday urging that "the due process of the law be followed" in Baryoh`s case and for him to be released on bail.
"Freedom to express one`s opinion is one of those rights which cannot be limited in times of emergency, hence journalists and media personnel must not be punished for expressing their views except when those views extend into the region of criminality," they said.
A campaign group for Baryoh`s release led by community elders in Freetown said in a statement they had visited the journalist and met with President Ernest Bai Koroma to discuss the arrest.
"We`ve... appealed to the president for his magnanimity to release Dr Tam-Baryoh," they said.