Dear Your Excellencies,
My name is Jonathan Paye-Layleh, the Liberia correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and The Associated Press news agency. I am a Liberian who has lived at home and worked for the two institutions since 1993 and 1996, respectively. I write to draw your joint or individual attention, through this open letter, to a situation that involves my safety; and I eagerly look forward to your prompt intervention to save a Liberian life.
On Thursday, March 22, 2018 the United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Amina J. Mohammed, was visiting Liberia and when she and President Weah were taking questions from reporters in the midst of dignitaries, I asked the visitor if the UN was willing to support efforts in Liberia to set up a war crimes court like it did in Sierra Leone; and in the same question I asked President Weah if he, too, was willing to allow such a process in Liberia because Human Rights Watch had asked him to create an avenue for victims of the Liberian wars to face their alleged perpetrators; sadly, in answering the question, the President accused me in a live broadcast that when he was working for human rights in Liberia before becoming President, I was one person against him.
A day or two later, when I stepped up an effort to seek some simple clarity from the office of the President, there came a press statement that indicted me more. The press release spoke to the effect that when he (the President) was working for social justice during the course of the fourteen-year civil war, I was bent on undermining his effort by depicting a positive image of the war carnage. I don’t understand this. To say I am baffled by these allegations and verbal attacks is an understatement; my media work in Liberia for more than two decades has largely been about trying to help create a society that we can call democratic.
My decision to ask the media community and the nation to join me in seeking explanation from Mr. President stems from the fact that I have never worked or reported against his interests — as a footballer, as a former footballer, as a Senator and now as President. The purpose of this open letter is to ask you to plead with Mr. President to explain openly how I was ever against his human rights advocacy and how did I depict a positive image of the wartime carnage. I am very serious about this.
President Weah’s unexplained outburst against me in the full glare of international dignitaries at an event that was meant to talk peace as the United Nations Mission departs Liberia has inflicted the heaviest wounds to my person, character and professional standing; and his press statement that follows has even injured me more. I still don’t understand why the President feels I deserve this. I need an explanation. I am getting you involved in my quest for explanation from Mr. President because for almost a week now, all efforts in the media to get this simple explanation from him have proven fruitless.
I urge you to join the campaign in seeking explanation and clarity from the President because his statements at the media stakeout and his allegations in the subsequent press statement have put my life at risk and injured my reputation to say the least. The life of a Liberian son is under serious threat and I am of the belief and conviction that the intervention of people like you in prevailing on His Excellency President Weah to outline the wrongs that he says I committed to him in the past will relieve me of the predicament I now face.
I urge you to use your wisdom, influence and above all, your motherly sensitivity — which places you in a special order to understand the pain of someone losing his/her life — to come to my rescue before it is too late. What I am asking for here, Madams, is simple: Please ask Mr. President, like we have been doing in the media, to explain how I was against him in his advocacy for human rights in Liberia and how did I depict a positive image of the wartime carnage. I need not tell you, Madam First Lady and Madam Vice President; ours is a gullible society.
What comes from the leader is presumed true.
My fears goes beyond the possibility of President ordering my arrest someday and formally unsealing the indictment that he has already hinted by his verbal attack; I fear more that some of the tens of thousands of Mr. President’s supporters who so much believe in him and in what he says could understand his allegations against me to mean that I am his enemy. And you can imagine what could happen to me in some corners without it necessarily being by his directive. No matter how strong they are, political leaders cannot control the emotions, actions and attitudes of their supporters; and in his case, there are probably hundreds of thousands of his supporters whose thinking he cannot vouch for; they could harm me as a perceived hater of a man they so dearly love. Liberia has some terrible memories about the way journalists have been treated by governments; and I really hope that history cannot repeat itself on me.
I want to rest assured that this request is not beyond your reach and that you are able and capable of getting involved so that the mystery surrounding the President’s unexplained outburst against me can be resolved. I need an explanation.
Thanks very kindly for your attention.
Jonathan Paye-Layleh, Liberia Correspondent, British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC), The Associated Press news agency