Liberian journalist will not have to reveal source

By Joel Simon/Executive Director on February 19, 2009 10:04 AM ET

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. 


I think this is a victory for freedom of the press in Africa in general but Liberia in particular.I can only imagine what would have become of the witness had Bility been forced to call the name of that person that facilitated his trip to Sierra Leone.

Hassan Bility was totally discredited on cross examination by Taylor's Defense team. The Defense showed him to be a liar who changed his testimony in each of the three trials he testified at in both Miami and the Netherlands.

I feel totally relieved by the news that comrade Hassan Bility would not be compelled by law or logic to reveal his source. For us who worked in Liberia as journalists during the reign of the Taylor era, there were several local and international people who assisted us obtain access to information, news sources and even unreachable terrains. And those who helped did so in the name of democracy and freedom. News coming from The Hague pays tribute to these heroes and heroines who helped journalists to tell the Liberian story—a story that attracted the level of international position that got the nation where it is today. SHERMAN C. SEEQUEH, LIBERIA

SHERMAN C. SEEQUEH February 20, 2009 9:35:22 AM ET

This is not only a victory for Hassan Bility , but also for the Media in general and Liberia media in particular. This is a landmark ruling that reinforces the courage of media practitioners to be effective watch dog of society and voice of the voiceless. Mr. Bility should be commended for his act of bravery and commitment to the values and principles of journalism even at times at the peril of your life under extreme pressure.

Bravo to Bility and may his single act of defiance in the face of enormous pressure sends a strong message that the fourth estate will not be intimidated into destroying its most important resource,OUR SOURCES.

Sam Togba Slewion
former Secretary General
Press Union of Liberia(PUL)

Sam Togba Slewion February 20, 2009 12:32:22 PM ET

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