Attacks on the Press 2002: Liberia

During 2002, President Charles Taylor repeatedly invoked the war against the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) to clamp down on critical reporting. On February 8, he declared a state of emergency that broadened authorities' power to limit press freedom.

On June 24, Hassan Bility, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly The Analyst, was arrested on suspicion of collaborating with the LURD. In July, Bility was declared an "unlawful combatant," and on October 24, a five-member military tribunal recommended that he be considered a "prisoner of war." Despite several court rulings ordering the government to produce the journalist in court, Bility was not released until early December, when Liberian authorities remanded him into the custody of the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Monrovia. He left the country shortly after for an unknown destination.

Officials insist that Bility's arrest was not related to his work, but CPJ research shows that Liberian officials have consistently harassed The Analyst and its journalists. Four days after the government declared the state of emergency, police in Monrovia suspended the paper. Officials arrested the publisher and managing editor, Stanley Seakor, as well as reporters James Lloyd and Ellis Togba, for publishing a series of articles criticizing the state of emergency.

In a statement issued the same day, the Ministry of Information announced that anyone who commented on the state of emergency without official sanction would be "dealt with" under emergency laws. The journalists were released the next day, and the newspaper was allowed to resume publication. But The Analyst was closed again in April, when officials ordered it to cease publication "indefinitely" and police ransacked its offices.

Taylor interfered with the print media in other ways as well. He owns a 50 percent stake in the country's only printer, the Sabannoh Printing Press, and newspapers that use the company have complained of censorship, according to the Press Union of Liberia.

With Liberia's estimated 75 percent illiteracy rate, radio is the country's main source of news, and state interference in the medium has the biggest impact on Liberians' access to information. President Taylor banned the private Star Radio in 2000 and revoked the shortwave broadcast license for the Catholic Church-owned Radio Veritas in 2001 for alleged "anti-government reporting," leaving Kiss FM and Radio Liberia International, both of which the president owns, as the only stations with nationwide range.

Local private stations remain on the air, but they broadcast mainly music and religious programming. On his Kiss FM talk show, "Issues with the President," Taylor explained in early October that "the whole thing of broadcasting short wave is not a right. It is a privilege." However, in a surprise announcement in February, Taylor reissued Radio Veritas' license. In May, Taylor said his government would also ensure that the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System is allocated a shortwave frequency before general elections, scheduled for October 14, 2003.

But the upcoming elections are already causing controversy. Early in 2002, after Taylor threatened to cancel the vote, the Press Union of Liberia lambasted him for attempting to keep himself in power unlawfully. Later in the year, on May 3, police banned events in Monrovia commemorating World Press Freedom Day.



March 26

Jerome Dalieh, The News
Bill Jarkloh, The News



Dalieh and Jarkloh, editor-in-chief and acting editor, respectively, of the private daily The News, were detained by police for several hours at a station in the capital, Monrovia. The detention stemmed from an article in that day's edition of the paper calling for the establishment of a true democracy in Liberia and quoting a local political activist. Police interrogated the two editors for about an hour before releasing them. No charges were filed.

April 25

The Analyst


Police shut down the independent newspaper The Analyst and ransacked the publication's offices in an early morning raid. According to an Associated Press (AP) report, Police Chief Paul Mulbah said the ban was permanent and refused to give reasons for the closure. "The paper is closed and will not print again. This is a government order," Mulbah told the AP. The police did not have a court order to shutter the publication. The Analyst had also been closed on February 12, after publishing articles that criticized the state of emergency, but was reopened a week later.

May 11

Emmanuel Mondaye, Independent Inquirer


Mondaye, a reporter for the Independent Inquirer, was arrested in the central town of Gbarnga by state security forces and driven to the National Police Headquarters in the capital, Monrovia, where his newspaper is based. He was held for three days and accused of violating media-related provisions of the nationwide state of emergency, which President Charles Taylor declared on February 8.

Mondaye had gone to Gbarnga to report on fighting between loyalist forces and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, which on May 9 attacked the town in a move to unseat President Taylor. Government troops overpowered the rebels three days later.

June 24

Hassan Bility, The Analyst


Bility, a reporter at The Analyst newspaper, was arrested on suspicion of collaborating with the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). On June 26, Minister of Information Reginald Goodridge told a press conference that Bility was in government custody. Soon after, Judge Winston O. Henries ordered the government to produce the journalist in court by July 1, and, even though he granted the government a two-day extension to comply, Bility was never presented. On July 9, Judge Henries ruled that the court had no jurisdiction over the accused since he was an "unlawful combatant" and said he should be tried before a military court.

According to several reports from news organizations and human rights groups, on July 25, the Court Martial Board, Liberia's military court, gave the government an August 7 deadline to produce Bility. However, the Ministry of National Defense later declared the writ "null and void," claiming that the individuals who issued the writ were not authorized to do so. Immediately after, the president of the Court Martial Board denied having issued the writ.

Bility was finally freed in early December, when Liberian authorities remanded him into the custody of the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Monrovia. He left the country shortly after for an unknown destination. Officials insist that Bility's arrest was not related to his work, but CPJ research shows that Liberian officials have consistently harassed The Analyst and its journalists. Four days after the government declared the state of emergency, police in Monrovia suspended the paper. Officials later arrested the publisher and managing editor, Stanley Seakor, as well as reporters James Lloyd and Ellis Togba, for publishing a series of articles that criticized the state of emergency.

December 15

Throble Suah, The Inquirer


Suah, a reporter for the independent daily The Inquirer, was severely beaten by armed security personnel in the capital, Monrovia. Officers stopped the journalist while he was walking home at night and asked him to identify himself. According to sources who later spoke to Suah, when he showed the officers his journalist ID card and told them that he works for The Inquirer, they said that journalists are "troublemakers," and that they were looking for reporters from several independent media outlets that authorities say criticize the government. The officers then beat Suah severely and threatened to kill him. He was later admitted to a local hospital with internal injuries. By year's end, none of the attackers had been identified.




March 31, 2003 12:05 PM ET |

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