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Liberia university suspends student journalist over article

Selma Lomax. (FrontPage Africa)

A private university in Liberia has suspended a journalist studying there for publishing a newspaper story critical of the institution's management.

On May 8, private Cuttington University in Suacoco in central Liberia suspended Selma Lomax, a reporter with independent newspaper FrontPage Africa and a third-year student in agriculture at the institution, for four months over an April 26 story analyzing the financial struggles of the university. FrontPage Africa had previously reported on constraints plaguing the university since its founder and leading donor, the Episcopal Church of the United States, withdrew a major portion of funding. Based on interviews with university employees, Lomax's story discussed controversy over university President Henrique Tokpa, who has been accused of mismanagement and nepotism.

On May 4, Lomax was summoned to the office of the dean of student services over publication of his article. In an official letter dated May 8 and signed on behalf of David Morris, the acting dean, Lomax was found "guilty of a major offense" for using his "profession in journalism to obliterate the good image of the institution." The letter, a copy of which CPJ obtained, said that according to the university's student handbook, the penalty for writing "defamatory statements" ranges from "50 hours of hard labor to suspension/expulsion." It said Lomax was suspended for one semester beginning May 10.

With the suspension, Lomax will not be allowed to take final exams.

The university's vice president for public relations, Joshua Giddings, told CPJ that "no student, regardless of his profession, is above the law," referring to the oath every student signs to obey the institution's rules and regulations.

The suspension has come under condemnation as a move against press freedom, running contrary to the Liberia's Freedom of Information Act. Two student groups, the Cuttington University Student Union and Bong Student Union, said that Lomax's responsibility as a journalist should not be subject to intimidation, the Independent Eye News reported. The president of the Press Union of Liberia, Peter Quaqua, told CPJ, "This is purely an abuse of power by the school authorities. The story in question is about the complaint of teachers. So I don't see how it is inciting anything as the suspension letter states."

Lomax said he feels vindicated because other media have taken up reporting the issues he raised about the university. This week, New Dawn reported that dissatisfied university employees, including professors, launched a strike to demand payment of salary arrears and Internet access. But he also worries that once back from suspension, the school authorities will be out to frustrate and further victimize him.

"Yes I am a student in the university. But I felt there were a lot of things going on which the public needs to know about. And as a journalist I have a responsibility to speak out," Lomax said.

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Comments

I feel that the suspension of student Selma Lomax must be lifted without any condition, because he has done nothing wrong that wattant his suspension.

Thanks
Dixon Tunateh Penie
Community Radio Expert
Monrovia,Liberia

Dixon Tunateh penie May 26, 2012 8:23:14 AM ET

This is a very similar incident that happened to me when i was a second year at Addis. It poses serious intimidation and violations against press freedom!

THE TRUTH SHALL BE KNOWN- NO MATTER WHAT!!!
A wise person once said, “With the right of free speech goes the right of free silence, particularly when a citizen is challenged without the provision of procedure for a fair fight. And with it the duty, if we do speak, to speak not only freely but fully. There would be less and better talk if this duty were observed, for the difficulty is not so much with free speech as with free truth.”
This once prestigious and noble Episcopalian university called Cuttington University, currently under the mismanaged leadership of Dr. Henrique Tokp, is on a witch hunt to suppress press freedom and deny students the liberty of exposing the corrupt behavior being practiced by some members of the university hierarchy. This is the reason why journalist Selma Lomax is being suspended. He exposed the corrupt behavior of the leadership team and the mismanagement of those who are entrusted to execute their fiduciary duties of the universities. Now the world knows! Thanks to the internet and other social media!

Africa is the graveyard of great information and thought. Even academic institutions are serving as roadblocks to knowledge-it is unbelievable that the Cuttington University is suppressing press freedom, something even academic the government is protecting.