Executive Mansion's Response to theWorld Association of Newspapers
Dear Mr. O’Reilly
I write to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated March 15, 2007 directed to Her Excellency, the President of Liberia, in which you raised concerns relative to the safety of the Publisher of the Independent Newspaper, Mr. Sam Dean and the general issues bordering on press freedom in Liberia.
Permit me, Sir, to provide some basic and pertinent facts on the issue.
A local newspaper, the Independent, published on Febuary 20, 2007, pornographic photographs of a government minister, engaged in sexual activities. The publication of a pornorgraphic material is a violation of the law under Article 18.7 of our Penal Code.
The Ministry of Information, which is clothed with the statutory and oversight responsibility of media organizations in the country, cautioned the Independent newspaper against further publication of the offensive photograhs.
The paper was also cautioned by the local umbrella organization of the Press, the Press Union of Liberia, which subsiquently suspended its membership for violating its ethics.
In total disregard to the Ministry’s advice and in violation of our laws, the Independent newspaper again re-published the pornographic materials three days later.
It is against this backdrop that the Ministry, in keeping with its statutory responsibilties, revoked for one year, the paper’s license to publish.
There was, however, a misstep in the Ministry’s action, when the offices of the paper were ordered sealed off by the police, on orders of the Ministry. This should have been done through a court order. Nevertheless, once it was established that the Ministry had oversteppted its authority, the offices of the paper were ordered reopened the following day.
The Independent newspaper, you probably know by now, has taken the case to the Nation’s Highest Court, the Supreme Court, where it has secured the rights for a stay order, which forbits the Government from pursuing any further action against the paper until the full case is concluded under the law.
I am providing this background with the view of giving you a clearer picture of events which precepitated the action government took against the Independent newspaper.
Mr. O’Reilly, the reports you have received that Mr. Dean is a “wanted man and fugitive’ and that government had begun what appeared to be a campaign of harrassment against the newspaper and Mr. Dean, is grossly exarggerated and far from the truth.
Mr. Dean’s life is not in danger, neither is he a wanted man or being harrassed by any preson in the Republic. He moves around freely pursuing his normal activities..
You may want to ascertain these facts from the peers of Mr. Dean among the independent newspapers, as well as from the Press Union of Liberia, that represents most media organizations in the country. I seriously entreat you to obtain the names of the most independent and credible newspapers in the country and speak to anyone of the staff of these papers.
As a signatory to many International Human rights Conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the government of Liberia proudly adhers to the principles enshrined in that document. Equally so, we also adher to the United Nations Convention of the Child. Article 17.E of that Convention, protects the child against obscenity and any material injurious to their welbeing.
Therefore, while we uphold freedom of the press, we, as a government, are equally under obligation to protect the rights of our children as well as all of our citizens and others within our borders.
Aside from the issue of the Independent, we can say unequivocally that in Liberia, the general atmosphere of freedom of speech and press is comparable to what obtains in democracies the world over.
A recent U.S.Country report on Human rights practices in Liberia, for example, could give you a reasonable level of appreciation of our emerging democracy and the democratic tenets we try to uphold. According to the report, “the independent media was active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.”
Sir, we do not shy away from the fact that there may
have been procedural errors regarding the closure of
the offices of the paper, but to cast a blanket indictment
on this governement’s commitment to press freedom,
is in our view, a glaring misrepresentation of the true
picture of events in our country, as they relate to
the workings of the press.
This government’s commitment to freedom of the press, free speech and human rights, therefore, remains highly acclaimed.
I wish, therefore, to extend an open invitation to you or any member of your network to visit with us, at your expense and in your own time, with no prior notice or approval required, to ascertain the levels of freedom which our people enjoy.
I assure you, Sir, that the development challenges are many and we need all our fertile minds to tackle the dire poverty, massive international debt and regain the pride of our people among the comity of nations. This is a challenge that we feel proud to be a part of to make Liberia a once more beautiful and proud country.
Cyrus Wleh Badio
Press Secretary to the President
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