Photo: The Press Union of Liberia President Charles Coffey, Sr. Credit: Front Page of Africa - Photo: 2018

Press Freedom Becoming Increasingly Vulnerable in Liberia

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | MONROVIA (IDN) – Liberia’s new government under President George Weah is not having a honeymoon with the media though he has endeavoured to reassure journalists that they would have a “200 percent freedom of expression and press freedom under my government”.

The one-time soccer star, who succeeded Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the country’s first peaceful change of power in seven decades in January 2018, is accused of allowing the press to be muzzled.

Front Page Africa (FPA) – a crusading Liberian newspaper that has carried critical coverage of several governments – is facing a $1.8 million in defamation suits. A long-time BBC journalist has fled the country.

And – a few days before the body of a young Liberian journalist was reportedly dumped at his residence in Monrovia on the morning of April 16 – the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) alerted the international community over “escalating waves of Government’s Intolerance against the media in Liberia”.

The young journalist was Tyron Browne from the local radio station in Monrovia, Super FM and TV. According to FPA, hours after the fatal murder, Liberia’s Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism Lenn Eugene Nagbe said the government led by President Weah would leave no stone unturned in bringing the killers to justice.

According to FPA, a dispatch from Liberia’s Mission to the United Nations said Minister Nagbe who is in the United States on official business received the news while in a meeting with the Africa Program Coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Angela Quintal.

“The Information Minister disclosed that the police have begun a full-scale investigation and assured that the government will leave no stone unturned in bringing the perpetrator (s) to justice,” FPA reports.

The CPJ has taken up the case of FPA. Referring to the defamation suits against the FPA, Quintal said earlier: “Liberia has a troubling history of libel lawsuits where applicants ask for exorbitant damages simply to harass and intimidate journalists, resulting in their imprisonment or the closure of news outlets.”

“The government should move swiftly to reform Liberia’s libel laws to guard against their abuse in this way,” Quintal added.

The UN’s rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye also expressed concern over the consequences of large financial penalties in civil libel suits against Liberian journalists and newspapers.

Charges against FPA stem from a private dispute following the publication of an advertisement.

Against this perturbing backdrop, in an open letter the PUL President Charles Coffey, Sr. has urged UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Liberia’s Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, among others, to intervene with President Weah to clarify on how the BBC’s Liberia Correspondent undermined his work for peace and human rights in Liberia.

The PUL president was referring to what transpired in March 2018. At a press stakeout with the visiting UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed on March 22, President Weah accused the BBC Correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh of having been against him during the civil war, when he was promoting human rights and peace.

President Weah made the remark in response to Paye-Layleh’s question as to how his administration was implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations that called for establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia to allow victims of the Liberian civil conflict from 1989 until 1997 the opportunity to confront their alleged abusers.

Paye-Layleh has meanwhile left the country and reportedly sought asylum in the U.S. saying he feared reprisals by supporters of the president after Weah accused him of having been against him throughout.

“My fears go beyond the possibility of the President ordering my arrest some day and formally unsealing the indictment that he has already hinted (at) by his verbal attack,” Paye-Layleh said in a message to colleagues.

In a live interview on the state-owned national broadcaster – ELBC – Liberia’s Minister of Information, Lenn Eugene Nagbe alleged that Paye-Layleh’s decision to leave Liberia under the pretence of insecurity following President Weah’s comment at the press stakeout in Monrovia was deceptive and intended to portray a negative image of the Liberian Government to the international community.

Ngabe said the President was right in his assertion that Journalist Paye-Layleh was undermining him (the President) during the war years while he (President) was advocating peace and disarmament because Paye-Layleh was a member of the propaganda machinery of Charles Taylor’s NPFL. Ngab alleged that since 1990, Paye-Layleh was “a key member of the NPFL propaganda machinery.”

The NPLF is stated to have committed some of the heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity – even though no one has been prosecuted in Liberia for their role in the 14 years of civil carnage, which claimed over 250,000 lives, left more than half of the population displaced and brought untold suffering to the nation. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 April 2018]

Photo: The Press Union of Liberia President Charles Coffey, Sr. Credit: Front Page of Africa

IDN is the flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate –

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