New York, August 21, 2000 — CPJ calls on Liberian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release four foreign journalists who were arrested in Monrovia in the night of August 18 on charges of espionage.
The four journalists, on assignment for the British television station Channel Four, are Sorious Samora of Sierra Leone; David Barrie, a British citizen; Tim Lambon, also a British citizen; and Gugulakhe Radebe, a South African citizen. The journalists had been in Liberia since early August. On August 7, Liberian authorities granted them written permission to conduct interviews, take photographs, and make video recordings.
The charges of espionage were filed after authorities seized their videotapes and found material that was allegedly “damaging” to Liberian president Charles G. Taylor and the security of the state, according to Liberian Justice Minister Eddington Varmah.
The arrest has caused an international diplomatic furor. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the U.S. special envoy to Africa, has appealed to Liberian authorities to release the Channel Four news crew. Jackson this weekend warned President Taylor that the journalists’ detention “could only contribute to isolating Liberia.”
Former South African president Nelson Mandela told reporters today that he had urged President Taylor, in a recent telephone conversation, to release the four journalists. Sources in the region told CPJ that President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has also condemned the arrest. President Obasanjo and Malian president Alpha Oumar Konare are expected today in Monrovia, where they will discuss the peace process in neighboring Sierra Leone with President Taylor.
British, American, and African diplomats have accused Taylor’s government of being the main conduit for diamonds smuggled out of Sierra Leone by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front. Taylor has long-standing ties to the Sierra Leonean rebels.