March 17, 2000
His Excellency Charles G. Taylor
President of the Republic of Liberia
VIA FAX: 231 225217
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the recent illegal closure of the privately-owned stations Star Radio and Radio Veritas.
During the morning of March 15, heavily armed police officers under the command of Director of Police Paul Mulbah occupied the Star Radio compound in Monrovia and sealed its gate. Star Radio’s Internet-based news service was also interrupted. Meanwhile, police also sealed the compound housing Radio Veritas, which is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.
The police seized documents and broadcast equipment, and manhandled journalists and technicians. They also shut down the Catholic Printing Press, another Archdiocese media venture that is housed in the same compound. At the time of writing, armed officers in riot gear remained posted in front of both compounds.
A statement from Your Excellency’s office defended the decision to silence the two broadcasters, referring to “the rising incidence of inflammatory comments and radio programming filling the airways in recent times.” The statement accused “agents provocateurs” of using Star Radio and Radio Veritas to create security problems in Liberia.
In a March 14 letter addressed to the management of Star Radio, Information Minister Joe W. Mulbah stated that Star Radio, which is sponsored by the Swiss non-governmental organization Fondation Hirondelle, had only been granted a temporary license allowing it to broadcast during the 1997 general elections. Mulbah added that because the electoral “playing field had been leveled,” there was no reason for Star Radio to continue broadcasting “political talk shows, news, and interviews.”
However, CPJ has learned that Star Radio’s articles of incorporation, filed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, allowed it “to disseminate useful, impartial and objective information to Liberians” without time restrictions. And while your government has stated that Radio Veritas may resume operation if it provides a written guarantee that it will restrict itself to religious programming, it appears that the station’s license contains no such restriction.
Today, according to news reports, Your Excellency accused both stations of obstructing “the peace and stability of this country.” CPJ regrets that Your Excellency views press freedom as a threat to the stability of Liberia. In our view, a free and functioning press is essential to any possible resolution of the deep-seated social and ethnic divisions that linger two years after rebels under your command declared victory after a brutal, eight-year civil war.
Today’s action leaves only two independent radio outlets in Liberia: the privately-owned station Ducor, and ELWA, a religious broadcaster owned by Baptist missionaries. Two other stations, KISS FM and Radio Liberia International, are Your Excellency’s private property. CPJ believes that the closure of Star Radio and Radio Veritas is a blatant violation of international law that will severely restrict the Liberian people’s access to information, an internationally-recognized human right.
We urge Your Excellency to ensure that Star Radio and Radio Veritas and the Catholic Printing Press are allowed to re-open immediately, that their equipment is returned, and that their staff are free to seek, receive, and impart information without fear of reprisals.
Ann K. Cooper