Liberian journalist will not have to reveal source

We received good news this morning from The Hague, where the presiding judge in the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor dismissed a request to compel Liberian journalist Hassan Bility to reveal the identity of a confidential source. 

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. Taylor, Liberia’s ex-president, is being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity and war crimes based on his alleged sponsorship of the rebels.

Bility refused to provide the name of the person who facilitated his trip to Sierra Leone, saying only that he was a Nigerian soldier who was part of a regional peacekeeping operation. The Court considered written submissions from both the defense and prosecution and promised to provide a written judgment in the near future.

In our February 3 alert, I noted that forcing Bility to reveal his confidential source could compromise conflict reporting, particularly reporting on war crimes and human rights abuses. We look forward to learning more about the court’s reasons for rejecting the defense request, but this is certainly welcome news and an important victory for press freedom at a time when the ability of journalists to protect their confidential sources is being eroded in many parts of the world.