Journalists arrested for criticizing state of emergency
February 21, 2002 12:00 PM ET
February 21, 2001 President Charles G. Taylor
President of the Republic of Liberia
Via facsimile: 231-225-217Your Excellency:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned by the recent arrest of three journalists and the suspension of their newspaper, which had recently criticized the current state of emergency in Liberia.
On February 12, police in Monrovia arrested Stanley Seakor, the publisher and managing editor of The Analyst, and reporters James Lloyd and Ellis Togba. The police also suspended the publication. The journalists were released the following day, when the newspaper was allowed to resume publication.
According to senior police official Paul Mulbah, the arrests resulted from Analyst articles that were allegedly inflammatory and "not in the interest of peace." Mulbah pointed to two articles in particular. The first was titled, "Emergency Power Pinches Businesses: What Rights and Freedoms Can the President Suspend?" The second ran under the headline, "Normalcy Slips Away: Liberians Drowning in Horrors."
The arrests followed your government's imposition of a state of emergency to deal with the rebel insurgency in northern Liberia. In a statement issued on the day of the arrests, the Ministry of Information announced that anyone who commented on the state of emergency without first seeking proper government authorization would be "dealt with" under the emergency law.
This is not the first time your government has harassed Liberia's beleaguered independent media. In February 2001, authorities shut down four publications, including The Analyst, for alleged failure to pay tax arrears. In April, your government announced that press reports on fighting in the north of the country and on other issues of national security should be cleared with the Ministry of Information before publication or broadcast.
Local journalists fear that the state of emergency will be invoked to censor critical or unfavorable reporting, as the recent arrests and closures at The Analyst attest.
We remind Your Excellency that CPJ named you as one of the Ten Worst Enemies of the Press in 2001, based on your use of censorship, prison, and threats of violence to silence virtually all independent journalism in Liberia.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues and promoting press freedom around the world, we urge Your Excellency's government to refrain from interfering with the work of journalists.
Thank you for your attention to these extremely urgent matters. We await your reply.