New York, October 24, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) deplores the recent recommendation by a five-member military tribunal that editor Hassan Bility, who has been detained since June 24, be treated as a “prisoner of war.”
According to a Liberian Defense Ministry statement, Bility, editor of the independent weekly The Analyst, is a prisoner of war because he allegedly colluded with the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), reported The Associated Press.
Bility, whose paper has been a regular target of official harassment in recent years, was detained along with two associates—Ansumana Kamara and Mohammed Kamara. The Liberian government admits to holding the three men, but their whereabouts remain a mystery.
Soon after the journalists were detained, Winston O. Henries, a judge in the capital, Monrovia, ordered the government to produce the accused men in court by July 1. Authorities were later granted a two-day extension to comply but failed to do so, arguing that the detainees were “unlawful combatants” who would be tried before a military court.
On July 25, the Court Martial Board, Liberia’s military court, gave the Defense Ministry an August 7 deadline to produce Bility. But the ministry voided the military court’s writ, allegedly because the military judges who issued the decision were not authorized to do so.
“This ruling by the military tribunal is absurd,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We are gravely concerned that the government, which acknowledges holding Bility, has failed to present him in any courtroom.”
The LURD has been waging an armed struggle along Liberia’s border with Guinea in a bid to topple the government of President Charles Taylor. According to United Nations estimates, the conflict has so far resulted in more than 200,000 refugees, with both sides perpetrating serious human rights abuses, including murder and rape.