CPJ urges government to release British news team

August 21, 2000

President Charles G. Taylor
State House
Monrovia, Liberia

VIA FAX: 231 225217

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by your government’s detention of a four-member news team from Britain’s Channel Four television network, who were arrested by police at their hotel in Monrovia late Friday night, August 18, and have reportedly been charged with espionage.

We urge you to drop this absurd charge and release the journalists immediately. We also demand that Liberian police return the equipment and videotapes that they apparently seized from the journalists’ hotel rooms prior to their arrest, in flagrant violation of their right to report the news, as well as your own government’s written permit allowing them to report in Liberia.

The Channel 4 news team, which includes award-winning Sierra Leonean journalist Sorious Samora, entered Liberia on valid visas and received written permission from your government to film a TV documentary about Liberia. They met with Liberian government officials, including the Minister of Defense and your own press secretary, to whom they conveyed a request for an interview with you.

The Channel 4 team consists of Samora; David Barrie, a British citizen; Tim Lambon, also a British citizen; and Gugulakhe Radebe, a South African citizen. The four journalists had been in Liberia since early August. On August 7, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism granted them 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.

Despite this approval, 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 the hotel while they were meeting with Sierra Leone’s ambassador to Liberia.

The following day, Saturday, August 19, Justice Minister Eddington Varmah held a press conference, in which he acknowledged that the government had seized the team’s videotapes. According to news reports, Varmah 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.” According to news reports, Varmah offered no further details but said the four journalists could be tried soon on espionage charges. Other sources said a court appearance could come as early as August 21.

As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is outraged by your government’s flagrant attempt to block objective news gathering about Liberia. We demand that you order the immediate release of Sorious Samora, David Barrie, Tim Lambon, and Gugulakhe Radebe, and see to it that Liberian authorities honor the permit that was granted to the Channel 4 team on August 7.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director