New York, November 8, 2011–The administration of incumbent Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf silenced on Monday three Liberian broadcasters that have covered the campaigning of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party in the run-up to today’s runoff presidential vote, according to news reports.
On Monday evening, armed police in the capital, Monrovia, shut down the studios of Kings FM and Clar TV, Love FM and TV, and Shiata Power FM and TV with a court order and forced the stations off the air temporarily, according to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). The court order, signed by Judge James Zotaa of Montserrado County criminal court, followed a complaint filed by Justice Minister Christiana Tah and Information Minister Cletus Sieh against the stations over their coverage of the police’s violent dispersal of a rally at the CDC headquarters.
The official complaint accused the stations of “broadcasting hate messages against the government and deliberately spreading misinformation and messages of violence, and instigating the people to rise up and take to the streets,” according to court papers obtained by CPJ.
“We are outraged that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration is shutting down essential voices for the opposition on accusations of ‘instigating people to rise up and take to the streets,'” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on authorities to withdraw the complaint and allow the stations to resume broadcasting at this time.”
CDC supporters, alleging fraud, protested last month’s round of polls, which Sirleaf led with 44 percent of the vote ahead of challenger Winston Tubman. During the protest, police shot dead one person and fired tear gas at other supporters. Tubman withdrew from the election, and urged his CDC supporters to boycott today’s vote as Sirleaf, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is favored to win a second five-year term.
The court order summoned the managers of the three stations to a hearing on Thursday in which Judge Zotaa will rule to uphold or rescind the suspension, according to PUL President Peter Quaqua.
One of the stations suspended, Love FM and TV, was the target of an arson attack last month following an attack on the headquarters of Sirleaf’s Unity Party, CPJ research showed.