Liberia ALERT: Journalist to face military tribunal

The Ministry of National Defence in Monrovia on Wednesday July 31, 2002 barred the Court Martial Board of the Armed Forces of Liberia from hearing a writ of habeas corpus filed in favour of Hassan Bility, editor of The Analyst newspaper.

A military tribunal in Monrovia had asked the government of President Charles Taylor to produce the living body of Hassan Bility, the “missing” editor of The Analyst newspaper, by Wednesday August 7, 2002. The tribunal issued the order after the government had ignored four consecutive writs of habeas corpus filed by a team of human rights defenders to compel the regime to produce Bility in a civil court.

Bility was arrested on June 24, along with two others, Mohammad Kamara and Ansumana Kamara, and detained for what President Charles Taylor said was a plot to assassinate him. Whilst Assumana and Muhammad are being detained at the National Security Agency (NSA), Bility has been held incommunicado for the past five weeks, without access to medical care, his family or lawyers.

The Defence Ministry declared the latest writ of habeas corpus served on the government as “null and void,” on grounds that the “Commander-in-Chief,” President Charles Taylor had not ordered the Military Court to sit. The secretary of the Military Tribunal, Col. Ramsay, who signed the writ, was ordered arrested and detained. The intended trial of Bility, a civilian and journalist, by a military tribunal is upon President Taylor’s charge that he was an “illegal combatant.” Judge Winston Henries of the Criminal Court, without any further evidence, upheld the President’s claim two weeks ago. Though the government had initially publicly declared holding the three men, it later denied keeping Bility, provoking conflicting information as to whether he had been tortured to death or so badly brutalized that the government is buying time for him to recover.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemns the decision of the Criminal Court to succumb to President Taylor’s demand for Bility to be tried by a military court. The MFWA is therefore calling on all human and media rights organizations, individuals and institutions that believe in freedom and justice to protest the trial of Bility by any court whatsoever. The MFWA fears that a military tribunal will have no justice and will convict Bility and his colleagues as President Taylor wishes. A military tribunal will be barred to the public and independent legal defence for Bility.

We must protest the protracted detention without charge of the three men, and demand their immediate release. The torture and incarceration of Bility is part of the Taylor government’s campaign to destroy independent media and journalists in Liberia. The MFWA believes that the intention to try Bility and his two civilian colleagues in a military court is part of a ploy to find Bility and the others guilty at all costs.

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