Liberia UPDATE: Journalists attacked, displaced and living in fear

Following the recent incursions (and subsequent retreat) of LURD rebels into Monrovia, capital of Liberia, residents of the Duala and New Kru Town suburbs have been particularly subjected to a reign of terror alleged to be perpetrated mainly by government forces.

Journalists and human rights activists in Monrovia have been the worst victims of what appears to be the targeted and systematic looting, arson and rape of residents caught up in the raging conflict.

Independent journalist Lyndon Ponnie, narrowly escaped death when armed men attacked his home on Thursday, June 12 and robbed him of every possession. He now passes the night at his office in central Monrovia. The whereabouts of his family are not known. Ponnie, who is the former editor of The Concord Times newspaper, has been a constant victim of harassment and death threats for allegedly embarking on a campaign to discredit the government of President Charles Taylor. It will be recalled that in 1999, The Concord Times, relying on the Auditor General’s annual report, published a series of articles that pointed to corruption in government. The paper was banned by Taylor’s government in 2000.

Two investigative reporters of the independent The News newspaper, Bobby Tapson and Bill Jarkloh, as well as Joe Watson of the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), were abducted on Thursday June 12 (and released almost one week later) by the LURD rebels.

Stanley McGill, another reporter with The News was earlier on Thursday, June 5, 2003, assaulted by armed men who brutalized him and confiscated his laptop computer. A week before, on Tuesday May 27, 2003, he was attacked by three armed men wearing uniforms of the Presidential elite guard, the Anti Terrorist

Unit (ATU) who robbed him of personal effects, and left with a “promise” to “get back”. He is currently in hiding. The homes of journalists Philip Moore (editor-in-chief of the Independent newspaper) Charles Asumana (the Inquirer) and Kaba Williams have been looted and set ablaze.

More than 25 journalists have been displaced by the fighting in Monrovia. Several others are unable to locate family members, who have, themselves, been victims of the reprisals. The mother of Patrick Wolokpor, a reporter with the independent Inquirer newspaper was shot and killed by elements of the ATU when she protested the killing of her dog by the soldiers.

Three nieces of Ishmael P Campbell, human rights advocate and Vice President of the Liberia Bar Association, were assaulted and sexually abused. His home was looted, and he is reported to be in hiding.

The Media Foundation is deeply concerned about the safety of journalists and other media workers in Liberia. We urge the government and all fighting forces to guarantee and protect the lives and rights of journalists and innocent civilians, particularly women and children, caught up in the fighting.

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