Journalist harassed by police officer in Liberia

New York, February 15, 2012–A Liberian police officer on Sunday roughed up a journalist trying to cover allegations that police were harassing motorists, according to news reports.

Edwin Genoway, a journalist for the daily New Dawn newspaper, was assaulted and threatened by a police officer while reporting at ELWA Junction in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia, the capital, according to news reports. Motorists had told the journalist that police were seizing drivers’ keys and demanding money from them, New Dawn reported.

When Genoway attempted to photograph an officer taking a driver’s key, the official approached him and “slapped the camera from his hand,” New Dawn reported. Genoway told CPJ that even though he identified himself as a journalist, the officer repeatedly hit him while trying to take his camera and delete the photograph. The journalist managed to keep the camera and the photograph and told CPJ that he intended to file a complaint.

“I have a bruise on my hand. It is difficult to use my right hand, even to write. I am still taking pain relievers,” Genoway told CPJ. “He punched me as he tried turning my hand to take the camera from me.”

The officer allegedly threatened to “deal with” the journalist if the story got published, the Liberian Times reported.

“Liberian police accused of harassing citizens do themselves no favors by harassing a journalist trying to cover the story,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Police supervisors need to hold their subordinates accountable, make public their findings, and end this sort of press harassment for good.”

New Dawn reported that Julius Kanaba, the former assistant secretary general of the Press Union of Liberia, arrived at the scene shortly after and told police that as public figures, they could be photographed by journalists at any time and that the act could never be considered an offense.

Police spokesman George Bardue told CPJ that though the police had yet to receive an official complaint, an internal investigation had begun. “But we are not waiting for that complaint,” he said. “On our part, we have started an investigation. Once investigations are completed and if the officer is found liable, actions will be taken.”

Othello Garblah, the publisher of New Dawn, told CPJ that an official complaint would be filed in the coming days. He also said that the paper had been threatened in the past. “This is not the first attack. We have had a series of text messages of death threats from people–not only the police–for stories we have written. But we said we are going to do a formal complaint this time around,” Garblah said.