"Liberia Operates on Fear" Says Released Journalist
August 29, 2000

Sierra Leone journalist, Sorious Samura, just out of Liberian prisons along with three colleagues, told Dutch television Monday that "Liberia is operating on fear. There are so many things happening in Liberia." Other members of the British Channel 4 team also released described the country as "hell on earth."

The filmmaker said he observed that President Taylor wants Liberia to be left alone and to be run in secrecy, but that he had gone to the country to help tell the African story. But he said most people were afraid to talk.

Samura said he was separated from his colleagues, dumped in a dark cell, and told by a guard his heart would be split open and eaten. He said knowing how human hearts were eaten by Taylor's rebels, he feared for his life. He said cockroaches were thrown at him in his dark cell at the National Security Agency, which he said was a torture chamber.

The Associated Press quoted Samura as saying, "This guy with a knife said we are going to split your heart and use your blood to write "Cry Liberia", he said. "I've seen what rebels have done in Sierra Leone and I thought that was the end."

The AP also said "Mr. Barrie, a British director, admitted they were terrified. "From the moment we were thrown in the pickup truck it was absolutely terrifying considering the number of rifles. These guys had been hyped up - it was total terror".

The team also denied accusations of "yellow journalism", the gathering of information under false pretences. "We spent an enormous amount of time talking to Liberians about what they felt was the future of Africa and what they hoped was the future of prosperity for their country," Mr Barrie said. "It was utterly honourable with not a yellow paper in Sight," the AP reported.

The AP further quoted a British cameraman, Mr. Lambon, as pointing out that " the plight of the people they had left behind in jail needed to be remembered and talked about. 'We met hundreds of people, who are still in these prisons,' he said. 'They don't have a hope. You have to pay to go to the toilet and if you don't have any money then you can rot there. It's a hellish existence and these people have been left behind. There is a feeling of guilt that we were privileged to be allowed to exit the situation'."

Interviewed from London, Samura told Dutch television that despite the trappings of wealth around Taylor, the population was in abject poverty. Some have to break rocks for days for a meal, he said. Samura added that people were in need of schools, water and that hunger was prevalent.

The journalists' revelation questioned the Liberian Government's announcement that it had succeeded in forestalling a negative public relations campaign. Since Taylor came to power three years ago after the end of a seven-year brutal war, scores of individuals have been executed. The US State Department Human Rights report of 1998 on Liberia, revealed a number of mostly Krahn officers were secretly executed after being tortured, but Taylor later claimed the men were shot in escape attempt. The State Department also reported that over 300 Krahns were gunned down in the center of Monrovia by the President's forces and that over 18,000 fled the city after the onslaught. Opposition politician Samuel Dokie, his wife and two family members were arrested by presidential bodyguards and executed. The burnt and mutilated bodies were discovered after human rights groups launched a protest. None of the officers who carried out the arrest was punished and they still served in the presidents' security service. Several ordinary persons, including a women's activist, Madam Nowai Flomo, suffered the same fate.

Meanwhile, the US Government has issued a travel warning on Liberia due to the "unstable security situation throughout the country."

"US citizens in Liberia should establish and maintain contact with the US embassy and consider their own personal security situation in determining whether to remain in the country," the State Department said in a statement.

"Political conditions in Liberia have deteriorated in recent weeks. The presence of many ill-trained and armed government security personnel constitutes a potential danger," the statement added. "The northwestern part of the country is unsettled, as rebel activity in Sierra Leone continues to affect stability along the Sierra Leone/Liberia border," Washington said.