Four Liberian Journalists Charged with Espionage

By: Musue N. Haddad

The Perspective
February 22, 2001

According to reports from Liberia, four journalists of the NEWS newspaper have been arrested and charged with espionage by the Government of Liberia. The journalists arrested include: Joseph G. Bartuah, Editor; Abdullah Dukuly, Associate Editor; Jerome Dalieh, Sub-editor, and Bobby Tapson, reporter. The journalists were denied bail and will begin appearing in court today.

The arrest of the four journalists was precipitated by an article published in the News newspaper critical of the Government of Liberia extra-budgetary spending habits. The article called into question the amount of US$50,000.00 spent by the Liberian authorities to repair a helicopter said to be personally owned by Mr. Taylor. It also drew attention to another US$23,000.00 spent on Christmas cards and souvenirs distributed to members and friends of the first family.

Pointing to the lack of priorities of the Government of Liberia, the article, not only challenged the rational behind spending such staggering amount on non-essential needs, but also pointed to the continued deterioration of social services in the country including the recent closure of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, the nation's premiere hospital. Moreover, government has been in salary arrears to civil servants for over a year.

Many observers view this latest development as part of a long-running pattern on the part of the Government of Liberia to clampdown on the press and stifle its freedom.

Since the Taylor administration assumed power, the Liberian society and people have suffered massive and brutal human rights violations. The media as one of the few voices in society has also sustained and continue to suffer the wrath of the claws of dictatorship. Several media institutions including the New Democrat, The Heritage, Star Radio, among others have been forced to perish. The NEWS is among a few independent media institutions that survived several attacks carried out both publicly and in subtle fashions. Though there is self- censorship by journalists and the media because of fear harassment, the government of Liberia continues to muzzle the press.

Just last August, four foreign journalists of the British Channel-4 were arrested and charged with "espionage" by the Liberian Government. They were detained and tortured. But through international pressure and intervention brought to bear on the Government of Liberia, they were released. However, it is not quite clear how reporting and exposing the misuse of public funds would constitute a crime of espionage or spying for which the journalists of the NEWS newspaper have been charged.

But with the high paranoid state of the Liberian government, especially with the impending threat on the imposition of sanctions by the international community for Liberia's involvement in fueling the war in Sierra Leone, it is clear that the government needs a scapegoat to serve as a deterrent to other independent and vocal institutions in the country.

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