Liberia ALERT: Journalist detained for alleged coup plot

Security forces in Monrovia on Monday June 24, 2002 arrested and detained Hassan Bility, news editor of the independent The Analyst newspaper. The security accused Bility of being part of an alleged “terrorist cell” plotting to overthrow the government of President Charles Taylor. This means the journalist would be charged with treason which is a first-degree felony in the Liberian justice system and punishable by death.

Information Minister Reginald Goodridge said the security intercepted an e-mail communication to Bility from exiled opposition politician, Alhaji Kromah, which provided details of the alleged coup. Kromah was a rival faction leader to Mr. Taylor during the civil war and also headed the All Liberian Coalition Party (ALCOP), which came second in the 1997 presidential elections. Bility and Kromah belong to the same Mandingo ethnic group.

Bility, together with his newspaper, The Analyst, has been a victim of the recent spate of harassment and proscription of independent journalists and media houses in Liberia.

In April, when The Analyst carried the text of a speech made by Tiawan Gongloe, a prominent human rights lawyer who was brutally tortured in police cells, security forces shut down the offices of the newspaper and launched a manhunt for Bility. In May 2001, state security forces confiscated the computers of The Analyst and declared Bility “wanted.” He was accused of subversion for allegedly sending information to Mr. Kromah. Bility remained underground until the Press Union of Liberia negotiated his freedom.

In 1998 officers of the Special Operation Division (SOD) of the Liberia National Police, acting upon the orders of Police Director Joe Tate, arrested and flogged Bility, then editor of The National Newspaper. Bility bled through the nose and ears as a result of the torture inflicted on him.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is concerned about the safety of Bility and the perilous state of media freedom in Liberia. We urge President Taylor to restrain his government’s security forces from the persistent persecution of Mr Bility, and respect the fundamental principles of human rights – which include the legitimate practice of independent journalism and the freedom to hold or receive information – in the country.

The MFWA requests you to kindly appeal against the latest arrest and incarceration of Mr Bility and the unproven grounds upon which he is being held.

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