Liberia journalist detained for republishing story about president of Equatorial Guinea

Plainclothes police officers on September 15, 2016, detained Festus Poquie, a journalist with Liberia’s New Democrat newspaper, from his office and took him to the Liberia National Police headquarters in the capital Monrovia, where he was detained and interrogated for several hours.

According to press freedom groups and media reports, the interrogation followed the New Democrat‘s republishing on September 13 of a story published two days prior in London’s Daily Mail. The story quoted a former advisor, and now political opponent, of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema as alleging the president is a cannibal.

Liberian Information Minister Eugene Lenn Nagbe called for the New Democrat “to be penalised and made to retract the story,” according to media reports. Police said Poquie was arrested because his newspaper failed to contact the government of Equatorial Guinea for comment on the British tabloid’s claims, the reports said.

The independent FrontPageAfrica news website quoted Abbas Dulleh, editor of the New Democrat, as saying that the story had no security implications and was well-sourced. “We had a disclaimer on the story, meaning it is not our own writing. We did not add a word to the story.”

A group of Liberian journalists known as Journalists for Change condemned the government’s detention of Poquie as calculated to preserve a May 2013 agreement whereby Equatorial Guinea would fund the construction of an airport and public housing in Liberia, according to media reports.

Police released Poquie the day of his interrogation without charges following the intervention of the Press Union of Liberia and a human rights lawyer, according to media reports.