On January 23, 2020, officers of the Liberia National Police assaulted Christopher Walker, the sports editor of the privately owned daily newspaper FrontPage Africa, during the semi-final of a national soccer tournament at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sport Stadium in Monrovia, the capital, according to Walker, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, local news reports, and a statement by the Press Union of Liberia, an independent organization for media professionals in the country.
Walker told CPJ that he was standing with other journalists in the assigned media area when two police officers approached him and demanded that he leave. Walker told the officers that he had proper press accreditation and asked why he was being told to leave, he said.
The two officers then grabbed and shoved Walker, and several other officers, including members of the Police Support Unit wearing helmets and body armor, pushed and shoved him to the ground, as seen in video footage of the incident that was shared on social media. The officers continued shoving and grabbing Walker until he was pushed out of the press pen.
Officers torn his clothing and damaged his cellphone while they were shoving him, Walker told CPJ.
Walker said he believed he was targeted because of an article he wrote, which was published that morning, about the Youth and Sports Ministry’s decision to change the semi-final in a way that allegedly favored the Grand Kru county team, of President George Weah’s home county. The article alleged that Weah, a former international football star, had requested the change. The article also stated that the ministry denied the claim.
On January 29, FrontPage Africa submitted a written complaint about the incident to the inspector general of police, Patrick Sudue, Walker said.
Walker told CPJ that he visited the police on February 17 to inquire about the status of his newspaper’s complaint, because almost a month had passed without any response. He gave officers video footage of the assault that had been given to him by Zenu Miller, a journalist from the private radio station OK FM.
Walker noted that Weah’s bodyguards later assaulted Miller at the Samuel Kanyon Doe stadium on January 26, during the final match between Grand Kru and Nimba counties. Walker said Miller had called him on January 28 to “address the brutality against us” and discuss both of their cases. Miller died on February 15, according to CPJ research.
On February 27, Liberian National Police spokesperson Moses Carter told CPJ via messaging app that the names of three implicated officers had been forwarded to the police force’s professional standards division for investigation. If they were found culpable, administrative action would be taken against them, he said, adding that the officers could be suspended or otherwise penalized under the Police Act of 2015.
Carter added that Miller’s case was not a police matter, as Miller was allegedly assaulted by officers of the Executive Protection Service.
The Media Foundation of West Africa, a regional press rights group, issued a statement on January 29 expressing concern about Liberian security forces’ attacks on journalists during sporting events.
In addition to Walker and Miller, the statement alleged that armed police officers manhandled Webster Cassell, sports editor at the Inquirer newspaper, and Michael Solomon, a reporter for the Prime FM broadcaster, while they were covering a soccer match at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia on June 10, 2019.
The statement said that the officers, who did not present a warrant, got into a scuffle as they attempted to arrest Webster on the orders of a vice president of the Liberian Football Association, after the Inquirer had published a critical story about the official earlier that day.
The officers then forced Solomon, who had photographed their altercation with Webster, to delete the images he took.
According to a September 8 statement by Liberia’s Football Association, Solomon was not arrested during the June 10 incident after two other sports officials intervened. He later filed and then withdrew a complaint against the vice president, according to that statement.