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Monday, February 9, 2009

Sierra Leone: 'Soweis' Abduct Female Journalists

Sierra Leone: 'Soweis' Abduct Female Journalists
Mohamed Massaquoi
9 February 2009
Freetown — Two female journalists based in Kenema have been released after they were arrested by 'soweis' (initiators of the bondo FGM ceremonies).
Manjia Balama-Samba and Henrietta Youn Kpaka were Saturday held hostage by a group of women who apparently considered their reports, on the controversial female genital mutilation, as a blatant show of disrespect for tradition.
Chief initiator Haja Massah Kaisamba said the incident happened in the absence of the paramount chief who could have intervened before the journalists could be taken to the bush.
"I have told the women that the reporters were never against FGM per se. I have asked for a right to reply and I intend to use that opportunity clarify the issues and call on those women not to take any such actions without due consultation," she said.
Manjia Balama-Samba, a reporter for the United Nations radio and Henrietta Youn Kpaka of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) Kenema, were held hostage on Saturday morning at 'Kpanguwiama' (bondo bush) along Sahara Street.
The journalists had conducted several interviews as part of the media's collaboration with the inter-African committee on traditional practices (IAC) to observe February 6, 2009 as the 5th anniversary of the international day on zero tolerance to female genital mutilation (FGM).
IAC said FGM has been recognized as violence against women and girls and coupled with other medical, social, psycho-sexual and economic consequences.
"The practice should not be allowed to continue under the guise of tradition or religion."
In an interview with Concord Times, one of the hostages, Kpaka explained from where she was being held that there was a radio programme on FGM and the Manjia being a reporter in the region was threatened on the phone, first by some unknown persons.
She said certain individuals later called on her to turn herself over to the 'sowies' or she would be attacked and her house would be burnt down.
"When I heard that Manjia was being held hostage, I decided to come and talk to her about the incident. The women did not allow me to talk to her. She was stripped of her clothes and surrounded by senior bondo women. All of them were furious about the incident, some saying the she had openly degraded their society."
Head of the independent media commission Bernadette Cole and the president of the Sierra Leone association of journalists Umaru Fofana have both condemned the abduction.
In a press release the journalist association said We condemn in the strongest of terms these illegal arrests and detention in a Bondo Bush of the journalists and reiterate our appeal to the public that formal and civilized channels exist for seeking redress which must be respected."