Armed police officers on June 10, 2019, manhandled a sports journalist and took him to the police station following a complaint lodged by a Vice President of the Liberia Football Association (LFA).
The officers, who did not show any arrest warrant, accosted Cassell Webster, Sports Editor of the INQUIRER Newspaper at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia and insisted he followed them to the headquarters of the Liberia National Police for questioning over his recent article.
The police action was instigated by Wilmot Smith, Vice President of the LFA in charge of operations, who claimed that Webster had defamed him. The accusation relates to an article published on June 10, 2019, in which the journalist alleged that the LFA Vice President had assaulted a Liberian referee.
In a related incident, the police officers seized the phone of another journalist, Michael Solomon, and deleted pictures he had taken of the altercation between them and his colleague Webster.
Solomon, who works for Prime FM in Monrovia, was also accused by the LFA Vice President of “wrongfully discussing him on a live sports programme.”
“As the officers in arms arrived, Mr. Smith approached me in anger, threatening that he will deal with me for discussing him on radio without contacting him. I insisted that everything I said about him was factual,” Solomon recounted.
The tension was finally defused following the intervention of the legal representative of the Liberia Football Association Cllr. Joseph Kollie, who held a side discussion with the police officers.
The Sports Writers Association of Liberia (SWAL) has expressed concern over the incident.
“While we denounce all forms of improper reportage, SWAL still believes that the manner in which the VPO proceeded was detrimental,” it said in a statement.
Malcolm Joseph, Executive Director of the Centre for Media Studies and Peace-building (CEMESP), MFWA’s partner organisation in Liberia, has condemned the attempted arrest of the journalist as an attack on press freedom and a ploy to silence the Liberia Sporting press.
The MFWA therefore joins CEMESP in condemning the action by Wilmot Smith which is a clear attempt to intimidate the journalists. Liberia recently decriminalised libel, and so the use of armed police officers to arrest journalists for alleged press offenses is unacceptable.
Consequently, we urge the Executive Committee of the LFA to call its Vice President to order, and appeal to the Police in Liberia not to allow itself to be manipulated by powerful individuals to settle personal scores with journalists.