A Cry Out For Help - Set Mr. Dean Free!

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective

August 23, 2001

The recent news of the arbitrary arrest yet again of another journalist by the Liberian security forces is very disturbing and should draw the immediate condemnation of the "free" international press.

Already, the media watch group, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders), which defends jailed journalists and press freedom throughout the world, has written a letter to the country's Justice Minister, Eddington Varmah, asking him to "refer the matter to the competent authorities to ensure that the journalist is released immediately."

While we highly commend the RSF for taking this bold action, we join it wholeheartedly in attempting to secure the "immediate and unconditional" release of our colleague, Sam O. Dean, editor of the Monrovia Guardian newspaper.

This latest action by the Liberian authorities against the local press is ridiculous and should be discouraged.

According to RSF, it had gathered information around August 20, that Mr. Dean had been arrested in Monrovia by the police and taken to their headquarters for further questioning after being charged with "criminal malevolence", whatever that means in the eyes of Liberian police officials.

"He is accused of publishing an article which said that the police chief Paul Mulbah had been summoned by the House of Representatives for 'explanation'. A representative [had] accused the director of police of 'flogging' her. Paul Mulbah [then] complained to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) about the 'sensationalism' and 'misleading' reports of the newspaper. Sam O. Dean has spent two nights in detention sleeping on the bare floor. His colleagues have been denied the right to visit him", the RSF report said.

Now, let's assume for a moment that all Mr. Mulbah's accusations were true, does it mean that they warrant the abrupt arrest of a journalist or any writer for that matter for practicing their chosen profession? Does it justify a person sleeping on the bare floor for just writing an article, no matter how offending it is? For any sober person, the answer would be NO in each instance.

That's why there are laws on the book. If you are a public servant or even a private citizen, the correct thing to have done in this rather unfortunate situation, was to take Mr. Dean to court and let him answer the charges there. What you don't do, especially as a "struggling" government, is to damage your image "repeatedly" and then try to point the blame for your problems some place else.

When the issue of press freedom (or lack of it) in Liberia, among other things, was raised recently by Amnesty International (AI), the war-stricken country's Information Minister, Reginald Goodridge, angrily denied the organization's report calling it "a malicious lie and an attempt to tarnish the image of Liberia". He also went much further in his tirade, accusing the AI researcher that wrote the report of being "an agent working for detractors of the Liberian government, according to the Pan African News Agency (PANA). But anyone that has worked for the press in Liberia knows that Minister Goodridge was only towing the "traditional" government line - deny, deny and deny! No wonder why the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a US-based group, named Liberia as one of the "ten worst enemies of the press."

In all frankness, the Ministry's position often hurts the Liberian government's image as opposed to helping it, because the "truth" would eventually come out regardless of how long it takes. And the last thing that this government wants, is more international pressure to be exerted on it in order to force it (government) to conform to basic human rights standards, including, freedom of speech and of the press.

As the government's public relations arm, the Information Ministry should know that it's almost impossible to curtail information coming in or going out of the country. The best that they could do for the "pariah" Taylor government is to stick with the truth and deal with it head on - no disguise.

And the fact that they just aren't doing so, at least right now, usually give rise to rumors, speculations and innuendos. But at the same time, it makes the need for such news outlets, like the Perspective, even more critical and significant in Liberia's still unfolding drama.

On a serious note, we would like to tell Mr. Dean and members of his immediate family that we are certainly with them in spirit and prayers. We would also like to call on the United Nations (UN) and the international community again, especially, those organization that are closely attached to the media, to intervene at once on Mr. Dean's behalf before his condition gets worse.

There absolutely is no justifiable reason why his family members, friends or colleagues shouldn't visit him unless the government has something to hide as usual.

The Taylor-led National Patriotic Party (NPP) government must be made to realize that it cannot afford to keep trampling on the rights of the Liberian people, particularly, the press. And if they continue as they are, there will be a bigger price to pay in terms of salvaging the Liberian government's rotten image!

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