Priest in Sierra Leone Advocates for Freedom of Expression in Fighting Hate Speech

Fr. Peter Konteh, Executive Director of Caritas Freetown in Sierra Leone. Credit: Fr. Peter Konteh/Facebook

The Executive Director of Caritas Freetown in Sierra Leone has called on authorities in the West African country to respect the people’s right to express themselves freely, even as the country continues to fight hate speech.

In a reflection sent to ACI Africa, Fr. Peter Konteh underlines the need to create an environment in which people can freely express their opinions, especially on the things that they feel are not working.

“A balance must be kept between fighting hate speech on the one hand and safeguarding freedom of speech on the other hand. People have a right to express their opinions on things that are not right; things that are not just. But you can express all this without creating hate,” Fr. Konteh says in the reflection shared on January 7.

“What we are saying here is not to suppress the freedom of speech wherein people have their right to give their opinion of what is not going well in our society,” he says, and adds, “While we campaign against hate speech, we also encourage that people should not be suppressed when they express themselves.”

According to the official of the development office of the Church in Freetown, any restriction on hate speech should not be misused to silence minorities or to suppress criticism of official politics, of political opposition, or religious belief. 


Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Sierra Leone last year embarked on programs to sensitize communities against hate speech as the West African country edges close to general elections slated for June 23 this year.

Acknowledging the strides made in technological development, Fr. Konteh, however, notes that social media is being misused by those seeking to propagate hate.

In his reflection shared with ACI Africa, he expresses optimism that as Sierra Leone approaches the electioneering period, the people will focus on passing across messages of love and affirmation, and not hate.

“In the year 2023, we want to take a different perspective. We want to affirm the goodness of people, individuals, places of work, communities you belong to, government, etc., to look at positive things they do rather than dwell in negative things that will divide and lead this country in disunity,” the Caritas Freetown Executive Director says.

He adds, “We take as an agenda that this year, we'll be focused on the positive values we see around us. We'll encourage people that are doing well so that they continue to do well in their various spheres of work.”

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“It is hard for people to see good in others because we are geared towards hatred, we are geared towards disunity. As we continue to sow the seed of disunity, we'll see results that will lead to violence, war, and hatred. We want to change this around and to sow the seed of love, the seed of appreciation, the seed of inclusiveness so that no one feels neglected; no one feels isolated,” he says.

The member of the Clergy of the Archdiocese of Freetown notes that hate speech poses a great danger to the cohesiveness of a democratic society, and explains, “We have seen evidence of that quite recently when we had our unrest that was perpetuated through hate messages.”

He says that the Caritas Freetown Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) had found creating self-regulation by private and public institutions an effective approach to tackling hate speech. 

He cautions the media in Sierra Leone, especially those that operate internet platforms, against publishing content that has the potential to divide the nation.

According to Fr. Konteh, underreporting of hate speech and hate-motivated violence is the other unfortunate phenomenon in Sierra Leone.


He says that victims rarely report incidents to authorities for fear of retaliation, of not being taken seriously, and of victimization. 

“Victims have no confidence in the justice system. This contributes to lack of data which makes it difficult to quantify the extent of the problem for us to take effective measures to address incidences,” the Sierra Leonean Catholic Priest says in his reflection shared with ACI Africa.

The recommendation of Caritas JPC, he says, is that those targeted by hate speech and violence be made aware of, and pursue their rights through administration, civil, and criminal procedures.

“There are many individuals that have been targeted.,” Fr. Konteh says, and adds, “There are people whose private pictures have been posted without their consent, harming their dignity. Many times, we leave that unaddressed and the victim is disturbed psychologically and their families distorted.”

He continues, “If you don't have a right to share one's information, don't share it. And I caution those who receive such information against forwarding it to others. By sharing such, you become part of those who are propagating hate in our community.”

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Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.