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World Press Freedom Review
2004 World Press Freedom Review
If the end of the violent and corrupt regime of President Charles Taylor offered new hope to the traumatised people of Liberia, little in the intervening months appears to have changed for the country's journalists. Even in the absence of the Taylor regime, journalists are allowed very little freedom and, as before, allegations of corruption against ministers is deemed unacceptable and punished accordingly.
Moreover, while the civil war removed the leaders of the regime, the old belief that critics of the government could be threatened, harassed or violently assaulted pervades the transitional government. There is now a desperate need for new elections and a new president to fill the vacuum that has maintained the practices once so popular under President Taylor.
Indeed, one of the new president's first acts must be to re-educate those in authority to appreciate the importance of a free media in a democracy. Should the president fail then there will be continued assaults on the independent media.
On 7 January 2004, journalists Alphonso Toweh, Janet Johnson, Gibson Jerue, of the Reuters news agency, Radio Veritas and The Analyst newspaper, respectively, were assaulted by a security officer working for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The journalists were apparently accosted when they went to the UNMIL offices to cover the weekly briefing session on the mission's operations in Liberia.
Based on an account from the Press Union of Liberia, another journalist, James Boeh, was also attacked when a Liberia National Police traffic officer seized the journalist's identification card and claimed that he had no right to report on a car accident. In a protest letter, MFWA and MISA condemned the actions of the policeman and UN security officer.
The letter quoted the press freedom organisations as saying, "Liberians, and media practitioners in particular, need and deserve a respite from the types of harassment and persecution perpetrated under the 14-year dictatorship of President Charles Taylor."
Attacks on journalists continued in February when another journalist from The Analyst was beaten up. On 9 February, Mike Jabeteh was severely assaulted by a member of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group. Jabeteh bled from the ears as a result of the beating. He also lost his wristwatch, tape recorder and US $500.
Based on information from MFWA sources in Liberia, the incident occurred in Tubmanburg, Bomi county, 42 kilometres west of the capital, Monrovia, where the journalist had gone to cover the voluntary disarmament of the LURD by its chairman, Sekou Damante Conneh.
Police officers, acting on the apparent orders of Police Director Chris Massaquoi were to blame on 4 July when Bernard Warity, deputy information minister for administration in the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) suffered bruising and was treated at a hospital near the capital, Monrovia.
Commenting on the incident to MFWA, Warity explained that the incident occurred at 6:00 p.m. (local time), when he was returning from watching a World Cup qualifying soccer match between Liberia and Togo. The police director was also returning from the match when he allegedly ran into Warity's car with his jeep. According to Warity, Massaquoi got out of his vehicle and ordered his bodyguards to drag and flog him. He claimed that the police director refused to recognise him despite his attempts to identify himself as a government official.
The security forces have also arrested a number of journalists for practicing their profession. On 23 February, Meeky Mckay, managing editor and sales manager of Heritage newspaper, and journalist Homammed Kanneh were arrested on orders of the Monrovia City Court for a story which appeared in the newspaper's 16 February edition which carried a sexually provocative story. The story was allegedly based on comments by Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) Speaker George Dweh upon his return from Europe. Dweh denied he made the comments and called the story "irresponsible."
In the aftermath of the story's publication, on 19 February, a group of women staged a protest march to the Press Union of Liberia's (PUL) offices in Monrovia, demanding the newspaper's expulsion from the PUL. The PUL had earlier called on the newspaper's management to issue a public apology. The Heritage later complied with the PUL's request.
On 16 January, editor-in-chief Philip Moore Jr., managing editor Adolphus Karnuah and sub-editor Robert Kpadeh Jr. were arrested and brought to the Magistrate Court in the capital, Monrovia, where they were charged with "criminal malevolence." Rennie Moses, a former business manager for the Telegraph, and Rudolph Gborkeh, the newspaper's chief reporter, were charged in absentia. Moore, Karnuah, and Kpadeh were released the same day, and later paid the equivalent of about US$5 each in bail. The charges stem from a story published in the Telegraph on 30 December 2003, which alleged that National Security Minister Losay Kendor embezzled US $15,000.
In late March, the Civil Law Court in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, issued a summons to the management and staff of four newspapers, the National Chronicle, the Monrovia Guardian, The Forum and The Heritage. The court issued the summons after Labour Minister Lavella Supuwood filed a suit in the wake of a series of articles by the newspapers reporting stories of heinous crimes committed against Liberians during the country's bloody 14-year civil war. The name of the minister was included among the names of those who allegedly perpetrated the crimes.
Stories about former cronies of Taylor continued to end up in the courts. In January The Chronicle newspaper was brought before the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in the capital, Monrovia, in an action for "damages for injury to reputation." Philip Keikpo, former business manager of exiled former president Charles Taylor, is claiming US$5 million for a front page lead story entitled, "How Taylor Diverted Millions," published in the 23 January 2004 edition of the newspaper.
RSF issued a strongly worded protest regarding the Vanguard newspaper in October. On 14 October the newspaper was accused of publishing a false and misleading article when, under the title, "ADA Boss Scoops US$13,000 from LEC," it exposed the questionable business dealings of influential local businessman and African Development Agency (ADA) director Wendell Macintosh.
The article said Macintosh, CEO of automobile importer Universal Harmony Incorporated, had signed a contract in February to sell two vehicles to the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), but added that the vehicles were never delivered. Upon hearing of the article, Macintosh immediately called his lawyer, who threatened the newspaper with legal action if the report was published. The newspaper's management team decided to publish the story anyway.
On the following day, editor-in-chief Crispin Tulay, deputy editor-in-chief Cheechiay Jablasone and journalist Kowo were summoned on a complaint brought by Macintosh under Section 14.27 of the new Criminal Code, under which the publication of news deemed "false and misleading with the intention of exposing someone to hatred, contempt and ridicule" is an offence.
The law suit followed an article in New Broom in which a commissioner was alleged to have received a bribe from the Sierra Leonean ambassador to Liberia, Patrick Foyah, for the release of a number of Sierra Leonean nationals who had been detained for breaking Liberia's immigration laws.
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