Freetown - Four female journalists are in a state of shock on Monday after reportedly being attacked, forced to strip and marched through a Sierra Leonean town by a pro-female genital mutilation (FGM) group.
Witnesses said the four were accused of reporting on an anti-FGM campaign last Friday, which marked the international day of zero tolerance to female circumcision.
The women were allegedly abducted by a pro-FGM group in the eastern city of Kenema, then stripped naked and marched through the streets before police and human rights organisations intervened to set them free.
"We are still in a daze," one of the victims, who works for the local United Nations radio, told reporters by telephone.
"We had received threatening telephone calls on our lives, that we will be taught a lesson not to report on FGM," journalist Manja Balama-Samba said.
"We were only undertaking a reporting assignment and have no hand in any campaign," she said.
Witnesses said the women were forcibly taken to the forest headquarters of the Bondo society, a secret organisation of women which traditionally carries out female genital mutilation as part of initiation rites.
There they were reportedly stripped before being marched into town.
Speaking to journalists, the head of the Bondo society, Haja Massah Kaisamba, would not comment on the allegations other than saying the four women were taken into "our custody because they spoke unfavourably on radio against FGM".
For their part police would not say what further steps, if any, they would take.
"We believe people should always obey the law," said police inspector-general Brima Acha Kamara, when asked for a reaction.
Secret societies have a lot of influence in Sierra Leone and politicians are reluctant to speak out against FGM, for fear of losing votes.
The government said early last year that it would ban the practice, but has done nothing to date.
According to United Nations figures, 94 percent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 years in Sierra Leone have undergone circumcision, traditionally believed to control female sexuality and make girls more "marriageable".
The incident was condemned by media organisations and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) called on authorities to investigate it.
Women in the Media Sierra Leone (Wimsal) rights group also denounced it as "unacceptable and against the tenets of human rights". - Sapa-AFP