In Liberia, the hardest-hit country, police last month used batons and whips to disperse protesters as lawmakers debated a request to extend president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s powers beyond the already sweeping ones accorded by the state of emergency declared in August.
Legislators in Sierra Leone threatened to gag the media over their coverage of the controversial allocation in September of 60m leones (£8,620) to each MP to boost Ebola awareness in their constituencies. Sierra Leone’s state of emergency empowers president Ernest Bai Koroma to arrest any person without a court order. A journalist in Sierra Leone who has criticised the government’s handling of the Ebola outbreak was allegedly beaten then jailed under those emergency laws meant to help bring the epidemic under control. An executive order to arrest David Tam Baryoh, was signed by the president, chief superintendent Ibrahim Koroma told Reuters. “The powers were derived from the Ebola emergency regulations the country is currently under,” he said, without detailing the charges against the journalist or specifying the length of his detention.
Local journalists said they fear a crackdown as they seek to keep on top of hundreds of millions of aid coming in. Residents, journalists and an official told the Guardian that trucks carrying food aid were sometimes parked outside quarantine cordons, which intended recipients couldn’t cross. The food was then looted by those meant to be distributing it. Burial teams have repeatedly gone on strike over unpaid hazard allowances.
“It’s a very tough time for journalists. A lot of money is moving around the country and we as journalists have to do our jobs and make sure it is being properly allocated,” said an local investigative reporter speaking on condition of anonymity.
Peter Nkanga, West Africa representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “Sierra Leone’s genuine state of emergency means that critical thinking and public debate are more important than ever. Locking away journalists without charge helps nobody.
Part of the aid inevitably disappears into government coffers in a nation that ranks 119 out of 177 on global corruption indexes. Last year, a number of top health officials were indicted for siphoning about $500,000 from a childhood immunisation fund sponsored by the Gates Foundation.