Journalists Condemn Renewed Clampdown on Free Expression In Liberia


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 4, 2002

The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) strongly condemns renewed clampdown on dissent by the Liberian government and the escalation in fighting between government forces and rebels of the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

We find unlawful and unacceptable, the detention of opposition politician Nigba Wiaplah for statements he reportedly made regarding the terrible state of affairs in Liberia, as well as the arrest of five human rights activists and five staff members of the state owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), including three journalists. The five were arrested for alleged vandalism after LBS employees began a general strike to demand 13 months in salary arrears. On the other hand, armed police reportedly stormed the offices of the National Human Rights Center and arrested the executive director of the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights, J. Aloysius Toe and four staff members of the center. The arrest of the human rights activists occurred after the National Human Rights Center issued a statement condemning the unlawful detention of Mr. Wiaplah, chairman of the New Deal Movement, a newly organizing political party.

After five days of unlawful detention since March 28, 2002, Wiaplah was charged with "Advocating Armed Insurrection" on April 2. The government said Wiaplah’s statement that the armed insurgency in Liberia is the "result of arrogance," justifies the insurrection in the country. A government lawyer said in court that Wiaplah’s "statement places the security of the state in danger, especially in this war situation."

We also note with apprehension that renewed fighting between the government and rebel forces, which is causing more death and destruction, is counter productive to efforts aimed at the restoration of peace. Reports of the April 3 rebel attacks on Kakata, a strategic town less than fifty miles from Monrovia, which left three people dead, speak to the deteriorating state of affairs in Liberia.

One week after the Liberian peace conference in Nigeria and the granting of amnesty to political opponents by the Liberian government, the recent wave of arrests and renewed fighting again cast a dark shadow on hope for a peaceful end to the state of anarchy in Liberia.

Meanwhile, ALJA welcomes the March 14-15, 2002 Liberian peace conference, held under the auspices of Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria.

We also welcome the release of political prisoners from jail and the granting of amnesty to political opponents by the Liberian government, the restoration of the short wave frequency to Radio Veritas of the Catholic Church, and the granting of permission to the Press Union of Liberia to operate a printing press in Liberia.

We had hoped that these positive developments would have been the beginning of concrete measures toward improved conditions of security and civil liberties, and the restoration of lasting peace in war-torn Liberia.

We commend the Nigerian government and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the initiative to bring together Liberian political leaders and representatives of civil society, to deliberate upon how to bring an end to the increasingly escalating state of armed hostilities in Liberia. As they once again take the lead in bringing an end to Liberia’s never ending state of death and destruction, we would urge Nigeria and ECOWAS to take a different approach in finding a solution without further consolidating Liberian leader Charles Taylor’s control over the country.

Our concern is against the background of the role Nigeria and ECOWAS were seen to have played in Taylor becoming president of Liberia. It should also be noted that both Nigeria and ECOWAS were seen to have attempted to shield Taylor from United Nations Security Council sanctions, in the wake of evidence of the Liberian leader’s involvement in gunrunning and diamond smuggling with the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone.

We support calls by participants of the Abuja conference for a cease-fire between government and rebel forces, and for an improved security condition in Liberia. We are also in agreement with appeals for the deployment of an international force, which would provide security throughout Liberia and supervise the restructuring of the country’s military and paramilitary.

Lasting peace would never be restored to Liberia with armed thugs belonging to Taylor’s former National Patriotic Front faction masquerading as the state military and paramilitary forces, who are found to be engaged in murder, looting, destruction and other acts of terror.

In order to bring an end to the state of death and destruction, we reaffirm our support for the United States position on Liberia, which among others, calls on Taylor to:

· Discipline members of the security forces and others who have threatened or used violence against political and civil society leaders;

· Respect freedom of the press, cease harassment of members of the press and allow independent electronic media to broadcast on AM, FM and short wave throughout the country;

· Fully address the security/safety concerns of political and civil society leaders; and

· Respect fully the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.

We also support United States calls to Taylor to:

· Cease supporting, arming or harboring members and former members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone and any others who seek to undermine the governments of neighboring states through violence;

· Stop violating sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on travel and trade in arms and diamonds;

· Cooperate with the Sierra Leone Special Court to bring those who bear the greatest responsibility to justice; and

· Allow independent auditing of the revenues from Liberia’s international ship/corporate registry, its forestry resources and its production of natural rubber to confirm that these revenues are used to benefit the citizens of Liberia, and not destabilize its neighbors.

ALJA reaffirms support for the creation of the Sierra Leone Special Court, and calls for the court’s mandate to be expanded to include individuals in Liberia culpable of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.

We also support calls for the setting up of a truth commission in Liberia. Those known to be involved in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity would long continue to perpetrate those crimes if a culture of impunity continues to exist.

While we support the involvement of the LURD in the peace process, ALJA opposes any discussion for government power sharing with the murderous armed gang. It is about time that we discourage rewarding known murderers and other criminals who take up arms to demand state power. Mr. Taylor and his autocratic regime manifest the danger confronting us as a people and country if we continue to allow Jack booted thugs to shoot their way into power.

We wish to remind the Liberian people that as the struggle to bring an end to Taylor’s destructive influence in Liberia and the West African sub-region continues, the autocratic regime and its supporters are also intensifying their efforts to undermine this process. As the latest situation involving opposition politician Wiaplah indicates, those who criticize Taylor’s regime are automatically accused of supporting armed dissidents, a situation that has resulted to treason charges being brought against some individuals found to be critical of the regime. There are also efforts to discredit or assassinate the character of organizations or individuals known to be critical of the Liberian despot, also a situation to which ALJA and its leadership are no exception.

Notwithstanding these attempts to instill fear in the Liberian people and impose an atmosphere of silence, ALJA would not waver in its efforts to draw international attention to the state of anarchy in Liberia. With the media in Liberia brutally suppressed and forced into self-censorship, we have an obligation as a journalist organization in exile, to report on those things our colleagues on the ground cannot cover because of the dire consequences. We challenge the Taylor regime to institute meaningful reforms, as spelled out in this statement.

Done this 4th Day of April, 2002.

Gabriel I.H. Williams - Secretary General, ALJA

Isaac D.E. Bantu - Acting President, ALJA

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