Liberia ALERT: Media under surveillance

Some independent media personnel in Monrovia have complained of being under constant surveillance by men believed to be state security agents. The journalists alleged that a group of men dressed in uniforms of the Liberia National Police and the presidential elite guard, the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), have visited their homes at odd hours of the night and inquired about their whereabouts.

Neighbours of the journalists in question confirmed to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) sources in Liberia that the police and ATU officers made threatening remarks, accusing the journalists of being anti-government. The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is concerned for the freedom and safety of journalists in the country. Independent media practitioners have been constant targets of state security forces since Charles Taylor was elected President of Liberia six years ago. The insecure environment has caused most of the country’s prominent journalists to escape from the country and are seeking refuge in the West Africa sub-region, the United States and elsewhere.

The few independent minds that chose to brave the odds and stay in the country are either constantly arrested, intimidated or physically assaulted. On December 14, 2001, reporter Throble Suah of the independent Inquirer newspaper was tailed and brutalized under the cover of darkness by five officers of the ATU. The incident left Suah blind and unable to either stand or sit unaided. He is currently seeking medical attention in Ghana.

On June 24, 2002, Hassan Bility, editor of The Analyst newspaper, was arrested and kept in prison for six months. When he came out of jail, he complained of severe torture in the hands of state security. Bility was released on the condition that the government of the United States takes him out of the country into exile.

As the country prepares for general and presidential elections scheduled for October this year, the MFWA urges the government to respect the role of the media in the building of democracy and to ensure the security of all media practitioners.

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