ALJA Condemns Detention of Journalists

The Perspective
March 5, 2001

The U.S. based Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) has condemned the arrest and detention of four Liberian journalists of independent newspaper, The News, by the Liberian Government on charges of espionage and has called for their immediate and unconditional release. In a strongly worded press release issued over the weekend, signed by its Secretary-General, Gabriel Williams, and approved by Acting President, Isaac Bantu, AJLA charged that the detention of the journalists was not only illegal and politically motivated, but also a serious breach of the Liberian Constitution.

"It is our considered opinion that the detention of the four journalists amounts to a gross violation of the Liberian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, and also a violation of the personal freedom of the individuals."

Reminding the Liberian government of its responsibility to protect and uphold the tenants of democracy, including but not limited to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association, ALJA called into question the "real motive" of the government's subsequent closure of the offices of four independent newspapers.

"In a similar vein, the closure of the offices of four independent newspapers on February 22, 2001, supposedly for tax arrears, leaves little to wonder as to the government's real motives. We view the closure of The News, New National, The Analyst and Monrovia Guardian as a political move, rather than one necesitated by economic factors, considering that other business entities with higher arrears still have their doors open."

Linking the rise in the repression to the pending threat of U.N. Security Council sanctions on President Taylor for his reported involvement in diamond and arms smuggling to Sierra Leone rebels, ALJA warns of the vulnerability of the media.

"As Liberia faces the threat of U.N. Security Council sanctions for President Taylor's reported role in diamond and arms smuggling with Sierra Leonean rebels, it is becoming clear that his dictatorial regime would employ more brutal and vicious methods to maintain control over war-weary Liberians. Often time, the media is the first to be attacked when basic human rights and democratic activities are under attack. We find it deeply troubling to note that the state of press freedom in Liberia is at its worst in recent Liberian history.

"From all indications, the latest clamp-down to silence the independent media, reflects the paranoia and insecurity within the close circle of President Taylor and his cohorts. The Liberian leader and his collaborators appear to be desperately trying to cover their trails after reducing Liberia to nothing more than a criminal state and turning the Mano River Union basin into a killing field in order to loot diamonds, timbers and other resources in the sub-region."

Acknowledging the role of the UN and international community in bringing pressure to bear on the Taylor regime, ALJA not only applauds, but also urges the intensification of said efforts as a means of bringing to an end this menace that has engulfed the sub-region.

"We support efforts by the international community to bring an end to Taylor's destructive influence in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and West Africa in general. ALJA welcomes the imposition of sanctions against Liberia, and hopes that, in the fullness of time, the warlord-turned president of Liberia and others culpable of war crimes and crimes against humanity would be indicted and prosecuted by an international war crimes tribunal."

"We hope that the U.N. and the international community, particularly the United States and Great Britain, would not waver in their efforts to contain Taylor, who, according to UNHCR Director Rudd Lubbers, holds the key to the peace process in the Mano River Union basin. We also call on the Liberian people to intensify their efforts, using every peaceful, democratic means over the next three years, to drive from power Taylor and the bunch of criminals engaged in the plunder of Liberia and repression of the Liberian people. Mindful that the only way to end the continued state of death and destruction in Liberia is to bring an end to Taylor's rule, we urge the Liberian people to adapt the slogan, "Taylor Must Go," in the campaign against the dictator. Taylor may seem entrenched but the collective will and power of the people are greater than the might of any totalitarian system."

ALJA provides an umbrella to Liberian journalists who fled the country's seven-year war or were forced into exile by the "democratically-elected" government of President Charles Taylor. The organization is dedicated to the defense of press freedom in Liberia.

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