H.E. Charles Taylor
President of the Republic of Liberia
1000 Monrovia 10
Vienna, 17 May 2002
The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives, is deeply disturbed by the arrest of a journalist in the provincial city of Gbarnga, Liberia.
According to information provided to IPI, Emmanuel Mondaye, a reporter for the Independent Inquirer, was arrested in Gbarnga by state security forces on 11 May. He is currently being held at the National Police Headquarters in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
Mondaye had gone to the city to report on fighting between government forces and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) who are seeking to overthrow Your Excellency’s government. On 9 May, Gbarnga was attacked by LURD rebels forcing government troops to retreat. The government forces later regrouped and were able to retake the city after several days of gun battles. In towns close to Gbarnga there were disturbing accounts of atrocities committed by the rebels and journalists travelling to the conflict area were prevented by the government from going beyond the Po River.
On 8 February, the government introduced a state of emergency which gave the government sweeping powers to limit freedom of the press. The introduction of the new law promoted wide-spread fears that the media would be targeted.
Four days later, on 12 February, Stanley Seakor, Publisher and Manager of The Analyst newspaper was arrested and jailed by the Liberian National Police. Two other employees of the newspaper, James T. Lloyd and Ellis Togba, reporter and chief reporter respectively, were arrested with Seakor. After hearing of the arrests, other staff went into hiding and the newspaper was later closed down. According to police, The Analyst had written a number of articles that, considering the prevailing situation, were not in the interests of peace.
On 10 May, at Your Excellency’s request, the lower house of parliament passed a resolution that the state of emergency should be extended for another six months. However, this decision has yet to be passed by the House of Representatives (HOR). Since the decision of the lower house, there have been a number of emergency sessions of the HOR but no decision has yet been taken. The HOR is thought to be consulting the various security services before taking a vote. During one of the sessions on 15 May, members of the media covering the session were asked by the speaker to leave the chamber.
With regard to the arrest of Mondaye, IPI believes that this is an attempt to curb reporting on the war between government and LURD forces. IPI would remind Your Excellency that it is an established principle of democracy that journalists be allowed to report on issues of importance including internal conflicts. In failing to allow Mondaye to cover the conflict, and by preventing journalists from entering the conflict zone, the Liberian government is doing grave damage to freedom of the media and freedom of expression in Liberia. Furthermore, it is enhancing the view of many that Your Excellency is disdainful of human rights; in particular, freedom of the media.
Regarding the exclusion of the media from the upper house of parliament, IPI believes this as an attempt to hinder the parliamentary process. In all democratic countries, the media have an established right to report on parliamentary discussions and we would ask Your Excellency to ensure that the media are not excluded from important debates in the future.
Therefore, IPI calls on Your Excellency to release Mondaye from imprisonment, allow journalists to report in the conflict zone, to desist from excluding journalists from parliamentary debate, to lift reporting restrictions under the state of emergency and allow The Analyst to reopen. By doing so, you will guaranteeing press freedom and freedom of expression in Liberia.
We thank you for your attention.
Johann P. Fritz