New York, February 3, 2009--A Liberian journalist who testified against ex-President
should not be forced to reveal a confidential source, the Committee to Protect
Journalists said today.
The journalist, Hassan Bility,
testified on January 14 about a 1997 reporting trip to Sierra Leone in
which he documented alleged ties between Liberian government troops and Sierra
Leonean rebels. Liberia's ex-President Charles Taylor is being tried by the
Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity and war crimes based
on his alleged sponsorship of the brutal Revolutionary United Front rebels in
During his testimony, Bility
refused to provide the name of the source that facilitated his reporting trip
to Sierra Leone,
saying only that he was a Nigerian soldier who was participating in a regional
peacekeeping operation. The source, Bility said, remains on active duty in Nigeria.
The presiding justice, Teresa Doherty, said she would consider written
submissions from both the defense and the prosecution before making a decision
on whether to compel Bility to reveal his source. The defense motion, filed on
January 23, calls on the court to make a distinction between "facilitators,"
who provide access, and "sources," who provide information. Journalistic
privilege, the defense argues, should not be extended to those who merely
"Journalists cannot report from
war zones without sources who often risk their careers and even their lives to ensure
that the media has access," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "Compelling
Hassan Bility to reveal his source could set a dangerous precedent that would
complicate access to conflict zones, potentially hindering future reporting."
Bility, the former editor of the
Liberian weekly The Analyst, was
jailed for six months in Liberia
in 2002 and accused by the Taylor
government of being an "illegal combatant." Bility later alleged that Taylor was present while he
was tortured. Under pressure from the U.S. government and press freedom
groups, including CPJ, the government released Bility from jail. He then went
to Ghana for an operation
related to his severe torture, then into exile in the United States before returning to Liberia.
Taylor was forced into exile in Nigeria in 2003. He was arrested in
2006 after the newly elected president of Liberia,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, requested his extradition to Sierra Leone to face trial. He was
later moved to The Hague.
The Special Court
for Sierra Leone was created
by agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the United
"We are monitoring developments in
the case very carefully," added Simon. "As Hassan Bility's own reporting
demonstrates, journalists play a vital role in documenting human rights abuses
in conflict zones. A decision to compel Bility to reveal his confidential
source could make it that much harder for journalists to play this vital role."