Liberian tabloid files appeal with Supreme Court after government ban over sex photo

New York, March 6, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Liberia’s Supreme Court to rescind a ban on private bi-weekly The Independent.

The paper filed an appeal with the court on grounds that the government violated Liberia’s constitution when it revoked their license and closed its offices after the paper’s February 20 and February 27 publications of a compromising photo of ex-Presidential Affairs Minister Willis Knuckles with two women, according to local journalists.

The Independent’s appeal alleged the government did not grant the newspaper a required hearing before issuing its ban, defense lawyer Edward Goba told CPJ. A ruling by the Supreme Court is expected on March 12. The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) said the police’s 48-hour shuttering of the paper was illegal because it lacked a court order, PUL President George Barpeen told CPJ.

On Friday, the private daily The Inquirer quoted Assistant Information Minister Designate for Information Services Gabriel I.H. Williams as saying, “If we are going to revoke the license as it is in the case of The Independent, we are not going to call the police and say go and close their offices. If we are going to do that, we will go through the courts.”

“The government has acknowledged that it did not follow due process,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge the Supreme Court to rescind the ban against the paper.”

The publication of the photograph had prompted the resignation of Knuckles following protests from women’s groups, according to international news reports. The government alleged the newspaper violated the penal code by publishing obscene materials, but did not charge the paper with the misdemeanor offense, Goba told CPJ. The paper intends to sue the government for damages in connection with financial losses incurred during the closure of the offices, Managing Editor Sam Dean told CPJ.