Three weeks on, Liberian President yet to condemn aide’s assault on journalist

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemns the attack on journalist Joyclyn Wea by an aide to President George Weah, and find it disappointing that Liberia’s presidency has failed to condemn the shameful incident.

Cleopatra Cummings, Deputy Chief of Protocol to President Weah, on June 28, 2022, assaulted Joyclyn, a reporter with the New Republic newspaper. Madam Cummings attacked the journalist for taking photographs of her in a Monrovia court immediately after the former had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

Incidentally, Cummings’ conviction was over her razor blade attack on a teacher during an argument at a school in Barnesville.

Wea, the judicial reporter for her newspaper, was in court to cover the proceedings including the sentencing to a month and three months’ imprisonment respectively of journalist Bettie K. Johnson Mbayo and her husband in an incident unrelated to Mbayo’s work as a journalist.

“I took a picture of her as she was (being) walked out of the courtroom with her daughter. That is when the daughter saw me take a picture of her mother and called her attention. They both started chasing me and I decided to run into the judiciary reporters’ offices to be able to protect my phone, because I didn’t want her to destroy my phone. I entered the office before her and I threw my phone in the trash bin.” Wea told the MFWA in a telephone conversation.

They held my clothes and pulled me. Other journalists, sheriffs and lawyers came in and that was how they rescued me from she and her daughter. They asked her whether she knew that I am journalist. She answered that she knew that I was a journalist, but that I didn’t have any right to take her picture,” added the assaulted reporter who said one of her colleagues from the FrontPageAfrica newspaper took a short video of the incident.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the assault on the journalist who was performing a legitimate public interest duty. Despite the fact that Cumming’s act of violence against the reporter did not take place in the course of her duties as a presidential aide, we expect the office of the president to publicly express its abhorrence of her shameful conduct.

The silence of Liberia’s Presidency over the incident reflects a growing culture of impunity as regards attacks on journalists in Liberia.  For instance, on June 29, 2022, journalists Emmanuel Kollie of the state radio ELBC and Amos Korzawu of Fortune TV were beaten by two officers of the Liberia National Police in Foya, Lofa County (northernmost portion of Liberia). The journalists reported that they were assaulted and beaten in front of the police station while covering clashes between supporters of the Unity Party (UP) and the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

On February 19, 2022, journalist Franklin Doloquee of FrontPageAfrica was interviewing traders on Gompa main streets, in Ganta, Nimba County when he was brutally assaulted by superintendent Nelson Korquoi. The journalist had moved towards the superintendent to interview him on the complaints by traders against his administration. Korquoi flew into a temper, grabbed the journalist by the collar of his shirt and hit him in the face before seizing his cell phone.

With much foreboding about the festering impunity in Liberia, the MFWA calls on the Liberian authorities to take measures to end attacks on journalists. The country is heading into elections next year and needs journalists to feel safe in order to provide the vital coverage of campaigns and the electoral process.

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