Click here to read more about press freedom conditions in LIBERIA
Click here to read CPJ’s protest letter to Liberian president Charles G. Taylor
Other CPJ coverage of LIBERIA:
March 15, 2000 – Two Private Radio Stations Shut Down
May 16, 2000 – Pulling the Plugs in Liberia (CPJ Briefing)
New York, August 23, 2000 — A four-man television news team from Britain’s Channel Four television network, in Liberian police custody since last Friday, was denied bail one day after their indictment on charges of espionage. [Read the indictment]
Judge Timothy Swope, who is hearing the case in Monrovia Criminal Court, said he had decided against granting bail for the four foreign reporters on the grounds that “espionage is a first degree felony. The court is reluctant to grant bail [in] such a case.”
The judge added that the four foreign reporters had committed a crime “against me and the people of Liberia,” according to CPJ sources in the courtroom.
At the end of the hearing, defense lawyer Varneh Sherman said he would appeal the judge’s decision to the Supreme Court. In an interview with the BBC, Sherman also claimed that some of his clients had been “tortured, humiliated and abused” on August 22, when they were taken to the National Security Agency for questioning. “[The agents] put cockroaches into their cells; they even threatened that they would cut them up,” the lawyer said, describing such threats as “mental torture.”
The Channel 4 team—award-winning Sierra Leonean journalist Sorious Samura; British director David Barrie; British cameraman Tim Lambon, and South African cameraman Gugu Radebe— arrived in Liberia in early August to film a documentary about the country. They were arrested Friday, August 18, and indicted on espionage charges yesterday, August 22. There were no defense lawyers present in the courtroom when the indictment was delivered, CPJ sources said.
A copy of the indictment obtained by CPJ charges that the four journalists “filmed various scenes and criminally matched them to the various counts of the already distributed script to show that the Government of Liberia is indeed involved in the civil conflict in Sierra Leone,” where Liberian president Charles Taylor is widely suspected of supplying rebel forces with weapons and logistical support in exchange for diamonds. (Liberian authorities reject this charge.)
The journalists also face charges of portraying President Taylor, a former Liberian warlord with a long record of alleged atrocities, as a “murderer to the viewers and the international community” by filming the head of state “on separate occasions and [linking] such film to events of war in other areas.” [sic]
Describing Liberia as “in a state of war,” the indictment also states that “information of public defense has been collected by the defendants and given to foreign citizens to be used against the Republic of Liberia.”
The indictment emphasizes that “the most serious offense under Espionage Act [sic], and the one punishable by death, is a violation [of the law] which proscribes communicating, delivering, or transmitting to any foreign government (…) or citizen thereof, any information relating to national defense, or attempting to do so.”
Since their arrest, Liberian authorities have claimed that the four journalists entered the country with “criminal designs,” seeking to substantiate U.S. and British allegations that President Taylor was receiving so-called “blood diamonds” from Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for weapons.
Speaking to the BBC on August 20, Liberian information minister Milton Teahjay said that “instructions from the State Department and perhaps what appears to be the British Foreign Office” were found among the journalists’ documents. “That is typical espionage,” the minister said.
On August 7, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism granted the journalists written permission to conduct interviews, take photographs, and make video recordings. According to CPJ’s sources, the permit was signed by Jeff Mutada, assistant minister for public affairs. Even so, police apparently entered the hotel rooms of the journalists on Friday, August 18, seizing all their equipment and videotapes. At around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, all four were arrested in their hotel while they were meeting with the Sierra Leonean ambassador to Liberia. The following day, Saturday, August 19, Justice Minister Eddington Varmah held a press conference, during which he described the videotapes as “damaging” to the government of Liberia and to the security of the state, and charged that they were “designed to present false and malicious information to foreign powers.”
IN THE FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT COURT,
CRIMINAL ASSIZEZ “A” MONTSERRADO COUNTY
SITTING IN ITS AUGUST TERM, 2000
BEFORE HIS HONOR: TIMOTHY Z. SWOPE….ASSIGNED CIRCUIT JUDGE
Republic of Liberia……PLAINTIFF [ESPIONAGE]
David Barrie, Timothy John Lambon, Gugulakhe Radebe and Samura Sorious……DEFENDANTS
THE GRAND JURORS, good and lawful citizens of Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia, duly selected, sworn and impaneled to inquire into matters brought before them for and on behalf of the Republic of Liberia, do upon their OATH present the above named Defendants, all Foreigners residing in the Republic of Liberia, for the crime of ESPIONAGE to wit as follows:
That in violation of the New Penal Code of the Republic of Liberia Section 11.8 and consistent with the receptive statute, 70Amjur2nd: New Penal Code secion 11.8 provides: “A person has committed espionage, a first degree felony, if he purposely reveals national defense information to a foreign power in the event of military or diplomatic confrontation with Liberia.”
70Amjur 2nd Sections 17, 18 etc. provides thus: “One is engaged in espionage, or spying, when he obtains information relating to national defense and communicates it to a foreign nation knowing that it will be used to the advantage of such nation or to the injury of the United States. Espionage has been loosely described as a form of treason and has references to the crime of gathering, transmitting or losing information related to the national defense with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.
Section 18: “Espionate Act makes it unlawful to enter or obtain information about any place connected with national defense for the purpose of obtaining information respecting national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”
“The most serious offense under Espionage Act, and the one punishable by death, is a violation of 18USCS section 794(a) which proscribes communicating, delivering, or transmitting to any foreign government, or to a military force within any foreign Country, or to any representative, or citizen thereof, any information relating to national defense, or attempting to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation. In time of war it is also a crime, punishable by death under 18USCS section 794(b), to inform the enemy of troop movements and any military plans or any information relating to public defense.”
1. On august 8, 2000 defendands herein above approached the Ministry of Information of the Republic of Liberia and sought accreditation as
Journalists, and in keeping with adherence to Press Freedom on the part of the Government of Liberia and Courtesy to all visiting Journalists, the request was granted.
2. That the defendants with criminal design abused the permit and begin to prepare damanging and injurious documentary on Liberia.
3. That the defendants surreptitiously began to carryout [sic] interviews and filming of sensitive areas of the Republic of Liberia which the Government of Liberia believes is intended to be used against it and the people of Liberia during diplomatic confrontations and military events.
4. That the defendants have written and circulated false documents which are being used by the International Community, especially Great Britain and the United States of America to support their allegation that the Government of Liberia is involved wiht Diamond Trading and Gun Running in the sisterly state of Sierra Leone.
5. That consistent with the criminal design of the defendants, the defendants filmed various scenes and criminally matched them to the various counts of the already distributed script to show that the Government of Liberia is indeed involved in the civil conflict in Sierra Leone.
6. Further, to count (5) above, the defendants through their script portrays [sic] the President of the Republic of Liberia as a Murderer to the viewers and the International Community and as an attempt to give credence, have filmed the President of the Republic of Liberia on separate occasions and have linked such film to events of war in other areas.
7. That the Republic of Liberia is in the State of War and it is believed that information of public defense has been collected by the defendants and citizens to be used against the Republic of Liberia.
THE GRAND JURORS, aforesaid, upon their OATHS aforesaid, do present defendants, David Barrie, Timothy John Lambon, Gugulakhe Radebe and Samura Sorious, all aliens residing within the Republic of Liberia, at divers times places and dates did do and commit the crime of Espionage, contrary to the form, force and effect of the Statutory Laws of Liberia and existing Common Laws, in such cases made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the Repulic.
Dated this 21st day of August 2000.
Republic of Liberia, by and thru the
County Attorney of Montserrado County
Col. Lemuel Reeves, National Police Force
Hon. Joe Mulbah, Ministry of Information
Documents, Films etc.