Authorities Refuse to Produce Journalist's "Living Body"
-A Press Release Issued by Reporters sans frontières (Paris)
August 2, 2002
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the Liberian government's refusal to comply with an order from the country's highest military court to produce "the living bodies" of journalist Hassan Bility and two other unidentified men who were arrested with him by security officials on 24 June.
The Minister of Defense has rejected the military court's order, issued on 25 July, as null and void, stating that the court had not been authorized by any competent authority to intervene in the case.
"How are we not to take this as a pretext," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Liberian President Charles Taylor. "We ask you to prove your good faith by authorizing a member of the Red Cross to see the journalist in order to establish that he has not been beaten or roughed up."
Editor of the Analyst news weekly, Bility is known for being very critical of President Taylor. He has been reported missing since 2 July, and Reporters Without Borders fears that he may have been tortured to death. He has been accused of collaborating with the rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).
The military court had ordered that "the living bodies" of the three men be produced by 7 August in response to habeas corpus writ. Now, one of the court's judges has been summoned to appear before the Minister of Defence to explain "actions incompatible with his status".
Previously, on 1 and 2 July, the authorities failed to bring Bility and the two others before a civilian court in Monrovia in response to the writ served by the National Human Rights Centre of Liberia, a grouping of local human rights organisations. On 2 July, the public prosecutor's office said the suspects were no longer being held by the government.
Concerned about this situation, Reporters Without Borders had alerted the chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Diego Garcia Sayan, on 3 July. Previously, on 28 June, the organisation asked Liberian Information Minister Reginald Goodridge to quickly provide proof of the accusations against the journalist, or to release him. Until now, the organisation has received no response from the authorities.
Shortly after Bility's arrest on 24 June, the Information Minister had said he was being held at the National Security Agency in Monrovia. He said Bility was "the central figure" among those running cells in Monrovia in collaboration with LURD terrorists and their supporters in the United States with the aim of assassinating President Taylor.
The authorities had said they had obtained several e-mail messages sent or received by Bility which proved his links with the rebels. LURD's spokesperson abroad said Bility was neither a LURD member nor a sympathizer and that, on the contrary, Bility had been very critical of the LURD.