Listener Staff Report
Liberian journalists today are still facing the heavy hand of the law from the Liberian government in an era when press freedom is a heavily touted word in post war Liberia. The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) recently was forced to decry the manner in which a journalist was battered without due process, and incarcerated while another was languishing in jail.
In a statement it released to the public to express its displeasure the union said Liberia’s Police Inspector General affected an order on “Friday, October 12, 2012 after the journalist allegedly took his photograph on the ground of the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill.” The Temple of Justice housed the Liberian Supreme Court.
Journalist George Borteh was on an official assignment for his institution the New Republic, when “Inspector General Massaquoi ordered his arrest and subsequent imprisonment in a cell of hardened criminals because he said the camera light flashed in his face.” Judging from these reasons, it becomes clear, that the rights of the reporter were infringed upon by the powerful government official, who heads the police force in Liberia.
Director Massaquoi has been cautioned by the press, reports say, to be mindful of Liberian laws which he swore to upheld and must also know that he is a public servant enjoying the position of his office to the very public and tax payers of which the press is part. “It is unfortunate that in this day and age Liberian pressmen are still being hounded by the very government that says press freedom is now enjoyable unreservedly in the country” a reporter said.
This year Johnson Sirleaf signed an important legislation meant to protect the press, and was explicit in her pronouncement about upholding the rights of Liberian journalists who have always face persecution from past Liberian governments when she said, “Today I will affix my signature, on behalf of the Government and the people of Liberia, unto the Table Mountain Declaration, to fulfill a pledge regarding our Government’s acceding to the effort toward repealing criminal defamation laws on our statutes in order to underscore the message, loud and clear, that we are committed to advancing free press and free expression not just in Liberia but to use our leadership role to promote it on the entire continent of Africa.”
The ink has barely dried on the paper when journalists are being rounded up. The behavior of the Police Director who reports say is also claiming assault because his picture was taken by the journalist says a lot about a public servant who doesn’t appreciate the role of the press in the larger society and especially his role as a government official. Massaquoi attitude constitutes an “abuse of power and an attack on press freedom,” the PUL has said.
Reports also indicate that another journalist Darlington Palenah has been locked up at the crowded Monrovia Central Prison on armed robbery charges. The cell is filthy and unhealthy even for hard core criminals. Palenah works for the Kings FM Radio owned by George Weah. The both instances of journalists Borteh and Palenah happened this month
Moreover, in August this year, journalist C. Y. Kwanue was arrested by the police. The Reporters Association of Liberia, frown on the act, saying, it was disturbed “from the fact that journalist Kwanue was indiscriminately arrested without an indictment or formal charge by Police” and that neither were the police “acting on a court order. “
The statement also added that “the action of the Police to arrest and detain journalist Kwanue along with his two sons in the absence of a formal court warrant…manifested “an utter lack of professionalism and ethical standards in the current structure of the Police despite the highly expensive internationally,” publicized Security Sector Reform initiatives and training currently being supported by Liberia’s bilateral partners, which is meant to better prepare Liberian security personnel as the country transitions from war to peace.
Meanwhile, the Liberian press union said “it was quite unfortunate that top government officials like the police chief would use his position [of] power to descend on others by violating their rights to due process of law…”
Pic: Police Director Christopher Massaquoi