Friends of Liberia Calls For Release of Human Rights Activist and Reopening of Independent Newspaper
(A Statement Issued on April 26, 2002)
Posted April 29, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Friends of Liberia (FOL), a non-profit non-partisan advocacy group, has urged the government of Liberia to immediately release human rights lawyer Tiawan Gongloe and allow the independent Analyst newspaper to reopen. FOL is also urging the government to stop its harassment of the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights (MODHAR), whose office in Monrovia was surrounded by police after the group put out a press release condemning Gongloe's arrest. FOL views the arrest and beating of Gongloe Wednesday (April 24), the closure of the Analyst on Thursday (April 25), and the move against MODHAR as blows against freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Liberia. Such violations of basic human rights only serve to further destabilize the country already suffering from a guerilla war in its north and west and from international sanctions. They also make it even less likely that international donors and investors will provide the money and support Liberia sorely needs to rebuild its economy following the full-scale civil war of 1989-1997.
"I believe it will be difficult for the Government of Liberia to gain the respect and assistance it needs to direct Liberia's development, if agents of the state continue attacks on basic liberties such as freedom of the press and on well-known and respected human rights advocates," said FOL Vice President Jim Gray. "I urge President Taylor and other officials of the Government of Liberia to free Mr. Gongloe and to allow all newspapers to exercise their freedom to publish."
Gongloe was arrested late Wednesday and placed in a prison cell where he was reportedly beaten so severely that when his lawyer, James Zotaa, arrived, Gongloe could no longer stand up. Police later took Gongloe to a hospital for treatment of cuts, bruises, loss of hearing in one ear, and pain that may indicate internal bleeding. Police Chief Paul Mulbah told the Associated Press that Gongloe was detained for making a statement that was "inimical to state security," but gave no further details. We understand that the Government of Liberia asserted in a press release April 25 that Gongloe insulted President Taylor in Gongloe's March speech to the Mano River Union Civil Society Movement in Conakry, when he is alleged to have said that the Liberian civil war, launched by Taylor, resulted in region-wide conflict. According to a transcript of the speech, however, Gongloe said, "...since December 24, 1989, when a group of Liberians launched an attack on Liberia from the Ivory Coast, the Mano River Basin has seen no peace and therefore no development."
It may be left to the rule of law to determine whether Gongloe's remarks justified an arrest when President Taylor is not even mentioned in the "offending" statement. To our knowledge formal charges have not yet been filed. In any case, his immediate release from custody by either dropping the matter or, at least, making the mandatory charge and allowing his release on bail should be immediate. At this point, we urge the Government of Liberia to demonstrate their sincerity in regretting the beating of Gongloe while under the protective custody of the Government by insuring that he has the best medical care available as determined by his family.
The Analyst newspaper was shut down Thursday by police. The government has not given a reason for what Police Chief Paul Mulbah said was a permanent ban, but, according to the Associated Press, Analyst Managing Editor Stanley Seakor said Mulbah told him it had something to do with the state of emergency. On Thursday the Analyst ran the latest in a series of articles criticizing a state of emergency the government declared in February. The Analyst also ran the text of Gongloe's speech.
Friends of Liberia, whose 800 members include former Peace Corps Volunteers, missionaries, U.S. government officials, business people, and scholars who have worked in the country, and Liberians, seeks to promote democracy and development there. FOL sent a team to observe the 1997 elections that brought President Charles Taylor to power and since then has urged his government to foster reconciliation and respect human rights. The arrest of Gongloe and the closure of the Analyst are the latest in a series of human rights violations by agents of the Liberian government.
About Friends of Liberia: FOL is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to Liberia. It is recognized by the U.S. Agency for International Development as a private voluntary organization and is a member of InterAction, the association of international humanitarian organizations.
CONTACT: For further information, please contact Friends of Liberia, 4300 16th Street, Washington, DC 20011, email Liberia@FOL.org.
Friends of Liberia (FOL) is dedicated to helping Liberians achieve peace, democracy and the reconstruction of their nation. The fourteen-year old organization, with the support of its 800 members, has conducted factfinding missions, provided relief and medical assistance, implemented communitybased reconstruction projects, brought representatives of warring factions together in public forums and conflict resolution workshops, and advocated for effective policies on Liberia. Friends of Liberia's 34-member delegation observed the July 1997 election in Liberia.
Friends of Liberia's most recent projects have trained Liberian teachers and built the capacity of Liberian Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
Friends of Liberia is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is recognized and registered by the U.S. Agency for International Development as a private voluntary organization (PVO). The organization is a member of InterAction, the association of international humanitarian organizations, and affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association.
Friends of Liberia may be contacted at 4300 16th St., NW, Washington DC 20011
Telephone/FAX: (202) 545 0139
Email: Liberia@FOL.org Website: www.FOL.org