Dear H. E. Guterres:
With renewed courage and confidence in your leadership to guarantee a free press which emboldens peace, justice, accountability, equity, human rights, and sustainable development, our compliments and best wishes in high esteem. We implore you to bestow same upon distinguished members of the Security Council, the General Assembly, and other principal organs of the United Nations.
We, Liberians, applaud you with standing ovation for recently hosting a successful 74th Regular Session of the UNGA. Such historic milestone is not only an evidence of your outstanding leadership role, but a reaffirmation of your pledge to upholding those basic core values of the UN, and a proof of your resolve to finding a more concrete solution to evolving global challenges/crises including press censorship, climate change, civil war, terrorism, poverty, growing inequality, disease, and illiteracy.
The future for journalists and a free press in Liberia appears gloomy. The media climate, which should be friendly and unhampered, has become even more hostile, polarized and paralyzed under President George M. Weah. There have been harsh consequences for independent and critical media institutions. Only in Liberia, vocal and fierce critics of the Weah-led Government are branded as ENEMIES OF THE STATE by President George Weah himself. This clearly tells you the extent at which journalists and voices of dissent are antagonized, censored, harassed, and bullied.
All is not well in Liberia. The Republic is fast transitioning from democracy to dictatorship. The signs of an anti-democratic and totalitarian hegemony under President Weah are rapidly evolving and becoming even clearer day after day. There are crises in almost every sector as a result of bad governance and leadership breakdown. If caution is not taken, Liberia risks slipping back into its dark past of carnage and anarchy.
- E. Guterres, I thought to address this communication to you because free speech and press freedom are under vicious attack in my country. The government in power has and continues to fiercely muzzle these fundamental and cherished democratic values upon which our collective sovereignty is anchored. Such panicking precedent is posing serious threat to our peace, stability and national security. The UN has invested so much for it to sit back in silence and see Liberia trekking on such a dangerous path as a result of the government’s intolerance for opposing opinions.
We are deeply troubled and dismayed by the latest action of the government to forcibly and arbitrarily shut down Roots FM 102.7, a critical media outlet owned and operated by popular talk-show host Henry P. Costa. Like it was with Punch FM of Patrick Honnah, FrontPage Africa of Rodney Sieh, and Daily Talk of Alfred Sirleaf, so it is with Roots FM of Henry Costa. What is even more disturbing is the fact that this preplanned raid or invasion of Roots FM was led by an ex-Rebel General (Augustine Nagbe alias General Power). Heavily armed riot police officers were seen taking instructions from ‘General Power’ to shut down Roots FM.
Such unlawful action is not only autocratic but it reechoes ‘The Reign of Terror’ in Liberia. What is even more disturbing is the latest bloody crackdown on unarmed and peaceful protesting public school students in Monrovia on October 15, 2019. Life in Liberia for journalists, critics, and protesters is worsening as President George Weah uses ‘iron fist’ to clampdown on free speech and free press. The Rule of Law is no more as a compromised Court System is being used as a vindictive corridor to repress media workers and voices of conscience. This is unacceptable!
The Government of President Weah has neglected its commitment to upholding international, regional, and local statutes and protocols that guarantee free speech and press freedom which are enshrined in:
Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The 1991 Windhoek Declaration
Article 15 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia
2007 Table Mountain Declaration
2010 Freedom of Information Act (FOI Law)
2019 Kamara Abdullai Kamara Act of Press Freedom
2007 Telecommunications Law of Liberia
The President was not only hypocritical but out of touch with truth-telling when he proclaimed at the just ended UN General Assembly that political actors and critics are freely expressing themselves under his government. Such boast or vain display is only good enough to seek solace in deceit and rhetoric.
- E. Guterres, I am compelled to submit to your office a chronology of attacks and/or assaults on Press Freedom and our Democracy in less than two (2) years under the Weah-led government:
BBC Journalist, Jonathan Paye-Layleh, fled Liberia after a public attack or outburst on his person by President George M. Weah on March 22, 2018 during the visit of the UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed
The raid and closure of FrontPage Africa Newspaper and the subsequent detention of some of its reporters coupled with a US$1.8 million libel lawsuit by a pro-Weah fanatic and diehard partisan of CDC in April 2018.
The mysterious killing of journalist Tyron Brown, a video editor and camera operator of Super FM/TV in April 2018
The Monrovia City Mayor, Jefferson Koijee, launched a blistering attack on FrontPage Africa and its Editor Rodney Sieh in April 2018
President George M. Weah described critics and vocal media outlets as ENEMIES OF THE STATE in June 2018 while on a tour in Bong and Nimba Counties.
The June 2018 abrupt suspension of all new operating licenses issued to media operators between January – June 2018 due to “technical and administrative irregularities”.
The prolonged refusal of GOL to issue license to Punch FM 106.7 since June 2018 for fear of its CEO Patrick Honnah, a popular radio journalist who has been branded by pro-Weah zealots as anti-government
Deputy Minister of MICAT, Eugene Fahngon, is on record for saying ‘he hopes that the media in Liberia will remain poor and broke for 12 years’. He arbitrarily ordered the arrest and imprisonment of a Liberian journalist Kelvin Mataddi in September 2018.
The strange and total destruction of Daily Talk (a critical blackboard media outlet) after it reported a story captioned “Corruption 2 vs. 0 CDC-led Government” in October 2018
President Weah is on record for branding journalists as FAKE and BLACKMAILING after his return from the UNGA in November 2018.
CDC Youth Chairman Jefferson Koijee led a group of thugs to violently disrupt an opposition campaign in District #13 in November 2018
The Minister of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), Samuel D. Tweah, publicly threatened to WEAPONIZE against THE MEDIA in December 2018. The establishment of parallel pro-regime media outlets is an example to reference (e.g. Inquirer Newspaper vs. Independent Inquirer Newspaper).
The Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, described the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) as ‘USELESS’ in December 2018
The National Legislature issued an arrest order for Hot Pepper Newspaper Publisher in December 2018 after Philibert Brown blew the whistle about the missing L$16 billion and accused lawmakers of receiving bribe to authorize the printing of L$10 billion.
Journalist Daffae Senkpeni of FPA narrowly escaped death inflamed by political gangs in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County while Journalist Opa Doue was threatened with ‘red card’ by Senator Dallas Gueh for reporting incidents at Rivercess County Sitting in December 2018.
Hon. Acarous Moses Gray of CDC branded a professional and independent journalist Frank Sainworla as “Anti-Weah” in January 2019 simply because Frank Sainworla expressed his candid opinion on a local radio station (Farbric 101.1) in Monrovia
The home of a vocal critic of President Weah, Representative Yekeh Kolubah, was fired at by unknown gunmen in January 2019. His children party was disrupted in January 2019 by surrogates loyal to CDC. Heavily armed police officers surrounded his home to forcibly enforce a politically-driven ‘search warrant’ and ‘writ of arrest’ in June 2019. His family was stopped by government from travelling in July 2019.
The ROOTS FM 102.7 of Henry P. Costa was shot at and vandalized in January and February 2019 by unknown gunmen believed to have been agents of the CDC-led government.
The transmitter cables of both Liberty Radio 88.1 FM and Joy FM 101.5 were cut off by unknown men in February 2019 and March 2019 respectively.
The Minister of State for Presidential Affair, Nathaniel F. McGill, described THE MEDIA as a ‘criminal enterprise’ in April 2019. He said on a local radio station “FPA Editor Rodney Sieh will go to jail”.
The host of the popular and critical 50-50 Show on Sky FM, T-Max Jlateh, alarmed over continuous death threats against his life by agents believed to be loyal to the government
The unjustifiable and successive ban of student political activities at the State-run University of Liberia in January 2019 and June 2019 as well as the continuous invasion by heavily armed police officers and pro-regime thugs especially from Sabu Unit
After meeting with Minister Nathaniel F. McGill in an effort to viciously pursue critical voices, ex-Rebel Generals gave a fierce critic (Representative Yekeh Kolubah) of President Weah a 72-hour ultimatum to turn himself over to their command in April 2019
The shutting down of the internet especially social media sites during a major protest on June 7, 2019.
The illegal seizure of the passports of some critics and members of COP before and after June 7, 2019 Protest (The passports of Opposition Senator Abraham Darius Dillon and Activist Martin K. N. Kollie were ceased)
The arbitrary arrest and subsequent incarceration of political prisoners including student leaders for more than 6 days in June 2019 which is far beyond the statutory period
The mysterious death of a senior staff of the Central Bank of Liberia, Matthew Innis, who was believed to have had credible information relating to the missing L$16 billion in March 2019. Another CBL staff who may have had information, Kollie Ballah, a truck driver mysteriously died after a few days.
During an organized and peaceful gathering of residents of Kingsville in June 2019, a child was shot to death and several other protesters were injured by police officers while they were speaking out against the ritualistic killing of two (2) minors in their community.
President George Weah said “no Urey will win election” under his watch as President of Liberia in June 2019
An opposition stalwart of ANC, Jestina Taylor, was found unconscious in August 2019. She was allegedly drugged, raped, and tortured by unknown men after she revealed some startling information about the government.
Ruling Party supporters attacked supporters of opposition parties at the Liberty Party Headquarters in August 2019
Ruling Party Youth Wing Chairman Jefferson T. Koijee threatened to meet peaceful protesters in ‘flesh and blood’ in August 2019
An opposition candidate, Telia Urey along with supporters, escaped death in District #15 during an electoral violence fueled by supporters of the ruling Coalition of Democratic Change in August 2019
On Prime FM 105.5 in October 2019, a key figure of CDC, Representative Acarous Gray, threatened a ‘counter-revolutionary protest’ against an opposition protest which is expected to take place on December 30, 2019.
In October 2019, the Government of Liberia through the office of the Solicitor General threatened to arrest popular talk-show host, Henry P. Costa, upon his return to Liberia.
On Tuesday, October 15, 2019, Monrovia became a bloody scene. Hundreds of protesting students from public school who had gone to demand the payment of their teachers were severely brutalized and teargased by police officers and security guards loyal to President Weah– some of the students even fainted and were hospitalized.
An appointee of President George Weah, Deputy Minister for Operations designate, Ministry of Defense, Tarplah Z. Davis alias Zoeley Zoe, publicly threatened on Facebook to kill anti-Weah protesters in October 2019.
It will interest you to also know that rape, sexual abuse, and violence against women, children, and other minorities especially youth at risk, persons with disabilities, and albinos is alarming under Mr. Weah.
- E. Guterres, these are just a few visible assaults/attacks on press freedom, free speech, and our democracy as a whole. I thought to recall them in order to give you a firsthand insight about THE DANGER confronting a post-conflict nation like ours. Of course, you were absolutely right when you said during programs marking the 2018 and 2019 World Press Freedom Day:
“Promoting a free press is standing up for our right to truth. A free press is essential for peace, justice and human rights for all. When media workers are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price.”
This is an affirmation of the United Nations’ strong belief in free press and media pluralism. Based on your pro-media and pro-freedom message, governments of this world are striving to protect journalists and guarantee the safety of critical voices. Howbeit, the story is different and adverse in Liberia.
Hence, this letter intends: to notify you and your office about the rising threats against press freedom and free speech – to seek your full protection for journalists and critical voices including whistleblowers against all forms of repression – to plead for your assistance in safeguarding our democracy especially the Rule of Law from being butchered – to prevail upon the Weah-led government to guarantee basic human rights and other pro-democratic values which are principally hinged to maintaining peace, justice, security, equality, and prosperity for all.
As I respectfully close, may citizens and governments of the world continue to find solace and solution in and through these historic quotes:
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”― George Orwell
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”― Evelyn Beatrice Hall.
In pursuit of peace, security, justice, freedom, and prosperity for all, I remain.
Martin K. N. Kollie
Liberian Youth and Student Activist
Phone and WhatsApp: +231 776572334
Cc: United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
African Union (AU), ECOWAS, Mano River Union (MRU)
European Union (EU)
US Embassy near Monrovia
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
International Center for Journalists (ICJ)
Reporters Without Borders (RWB)
Human Rights Watch
Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
Liberia Bar Association (LIBA)
Liberia Council of Churches (LCC)
National Muslim Council (NMC)
Traditional Council of Liberia (TCL)
Main Photo: UN-SG, Antonio Guterres, The Independent