Sunday, August 21, 2011

Courage, Principle (August 9, 2011)

Courage, Principle (August 9, 2011)

Sallieu Kamara and Paul Kamara (no relations) are among a small group of Sierra Leoneans who peacefully resisted the abuses of authoritarian governments here in the 1990s. When a military junta seized power in 1992, they and some other journalists refused to stop reporting about the junta’s violations of human rights. I knew that from my previous round of interviews here in 08 and 09. What I learned today in more detail was the day the two of them refused to be cowed by a show of military force.

Their newspaper For di People (For the People) had been shut by the junta for critical reporting. But they instead launched a human rights organization that publicized the abuses of the junta. One day they were both ordered to appear before a hall full of uniformed military leaders of the junta. They were told in very clear terms that they must stop their criticism of face possible death.

As Sallieu recalls the moment, Paul thanked the military for the invitation to be there. He said the military have the duty to defend the country, and that no one disputed that. But, he added, the people have the duty to defend human rights and he fully intended to continue doing so. He suggested they either kill them there and then or let them go to continue their advocacy of human rights.

Several years later, Paul was persuaded to join the junta briefly to help prepare elections. By this time the junta was mostly headed by civilians. In his brief tenure (one month) he several times refused to sign false documents, further angering the junta. Shortly after his last refusal, he was seriously shot by assailants who clearly meant to kill him. Sallieu witnessed the shooting, which he attributes to the junta or its supporters, and was able to get Paul to a hospital where he survived. Today he is back in the Cabinet of a new, civilian government, as Minister of Youth and Sports.

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