Mr. Charles Cuffey
Press Union Of Liberia (PUL)
Clay Street, Monrovia Liberia
Dear Mr. Cuffy,
In these last few weeks the media in Liberia have been challenged in the line of their duties like we’ve seen before under the dictatorships of Samuel Doe in the 1980s and Charles Taylor in the 1990s. What was unique about attacks on the media and journalists over those periods was the threats came directly from the men occupying the highest office in the land. Newspapers and radio stations were accused of either being against the presidents and national interest or seen as aiding and abetting aggression against the state.
In those periods we witnessed and counted crimes against journalists for just carrying out their duties as provided under the constitution of our land. In the 1980s,on numerous occasions the management of the Daily Observer was arrested and jailed without trial, the newspapers shut down for protracted period and the printing press vandalized and burned. In November of 1985, journalist, Charles Gbeyon was arrested from his newsroom at the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), taken to the Executive Mansion reportedly upon orders of the then Head of State Doe and murdered. Several other media houses and workers faced persecution over the same period but those named were the worst to have happened.
In the 1990s, under Charles Taylor the man to whom Vice President Howard-Taylor was married and reportedly divorced from, arrests of journalists, closures of radio and newspapers offices and labeling of independent media as agents provocateurs were common placed. At least one international news team visiting the country had all four members picked up directly from the Roberts International Airport (RIA) where they disembarked from their airplane and whisked away directly to a maximum prison at South Beach. Journalist Hazan Bility was arrested in front of colleagues and his tendered age son, bundled and shoved into a trunk of a car by secret service officers and driven to an undisclosed location where he was kept incommunicado for years. Mr. Bility was arrested and later the New Liberian newspaper then published by the Ministry of Information under another journalist Reginald Goodridge published emails claiming to belong to Bility communicating with Alhaji Kromah who was claimed to be an official of the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) rebels. It turned out Kromah was never a member of LURD and the emails were all manufactured.
Mr. Coffey, as I write you this letter I fear for the life of Mr. Jonathan Paye-Laleh, a journalist who have survived the worst periods of our civil war reporting the news from some of the most dangerous places. As you may already be aware, President Weah has accused Mr. Paye-laleh of being against Weah’s “work on human rights” in the past. This is a grave accusation. While at no time is Mr Weah remembered for any human rights advocacy in the country, what matters now is for the PUL to ensure the safety of another journalist.
The Presidency must be made to take back this accusation. It is unwelcome for the assurance provided by the President only hours before making the allegation that his government would honor freedom of the press, speech and expression. The President can not speak from both sides of his mouth. The beauty of free speech lies in the right to hold opinion. But opinion in the free press is unbiased and reports mirror the society. Reports in the press will not always favor the newsmakers and they need to demonstrate tolerance. I don’t find that to be the case with the President’s comments.
But this is not new. Two weeks ago at the MICAT press conference, Minister of Fiancé and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah accused certain media of “fighting” the President for 12 years. These comments tend to suggest that the government has a premeditated conclusion that some media and journalists are enemies of the government.
As head of the PUL, I’m asking you to ensure that the Union seeks clarity on these matters and insists that the President and other senior officials of government desist from putting media people into harm’s way. This is a negative, unfriendly media attitude that must be nipped in the bud. If we cannot stop these kind of fierce verbal attacks on the media it would escalate to violent attacks. The huge gains in press freedom over the last decade and a half are visibly under attack and could be reversed. I charge you to engage the Presidency and other relevant government institutions responsible for media matters and halt the slide immediately.
We need DEEDS NOT WORDS on guaranteeing the freedom of a press, speech and expression. This regime seems far from that right now, and we need to ensure mutual respect between the media and the government and its officials at all times. Let’s not wait until the untimely, gruesome death of a journalist and then start to issue condemnations. We must nip this ugly situation in the bud!
mainpic/PUL Prex Cuffy/fpa