The Press Union of Liberia is panicked at the fastest pace at which official intolerance for independent journalism and dissent is escalating in Liberia.
February 13, 2018: Montserrado County Representative Munah Pelham-Youngblood, who represents Montserrado County District # 9, in open plenary at the House of Representatives insulted and assaulted Front PageAfrica Reporter Henry Karmo. Karmo only wrong was rooted in a story in the Front PageAfrica which was critical of Representative Pelham-Youngblood’s role since the ascendency of President George M. Weah to power in Liberia.
The FPA piece written by Karmo detailed the deportment of the lawmaker in a strange double role as a Protocol officer and Representative at the same time during President Weah’s first State of the Nation Address.
March 13, 2018:, The Mayor of Monrovia, Jefferson Koijee, warned that the CDC-led government, which he vigorously campaigned to bring to power, won’t be unsettled by the reports of the media. Mr. Koijee was quoted in the local dailies stressing: “We [will] stand tall to work for our people and care less about the media criticisms of this government.” The Mayor of Monrovia continued his ranting saying that they have only taken over state power after a long twelve (12) year wait and will not be bothered by critical analysis of ills in the Weah Administration by the Media.
It is intriguing that the powerful Mayor’s pronouncements came after an unembellished statement from President George Weah’s preferred choice for Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Eugene Fahngon.
Mr. Fahngon vowed that the Media in Liberia will remain poor or broke for the next 12 years, inferring that President Weah will win a second term. Fahngon accused the journalism community in Liberia of denting the election campaign of President Weah by tagging him as being “dull” and as well accompanied that description with other derogatory languages.
Other trusted Weah confidants who have sarcastically attacked the media in Liberia recently include Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and Cecelia Cuffy-Brown of the National Port Authority.
March 22, 2018: During a press stakeout with visiting Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, President, George M. Weah accused the Liberia correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Jonathan Paye-Layleh of being against him (President Weah) and his human rights work in Liberia.
After protests from the Press Union of Liberia and Paye-Layleh himself, the Executive Mansion (Liberian Presidency) Sunday, March 25, 2018 issued this statement: “The Office of the President clarifies that as a longtime champion of human rights and an ardent advocate of peace and social justice, he only sought to remind Mr. Paye-Layleh during his response to question asked; that when he was advocating for justice and creating awareness to the gross human rights violations that were being perpetrated against the Liberian people during the fourteen years civil conflict, he (Paye-Layleh) and others were bent on undermining his efforts by depicting a positive image of the carnage”.
The President’s response grew out of a question Jonathan asked on an appropriate national subject, the implementation of recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report which would effectively see the setting up of a War Crimes Court for Liberia to allow victims of the Liberian Civil Conflict the opportunity to confront their alleged abusers.
Honorable ladies and gentlemen, in Liberia, ongoing works around the improvement of the legal operating environment of the media in Liberia which includes building public trust in our model of media self-regulation demand the highest ethical deportment from all grades of journalists and as well seek vigorously to protect our brand of journalism from anti-democratic susceptibilities.
In this regard, the Union has in its powers the proper reprimands for bridge of any ethical standard- we name and shame, suspend and ultimately expel memberships from the Press Union of Liberia for causes such as the one the President has accused Jonathan of.
For a journalist to undermine works around human rights is not only disingenuous and grossly unethical but a charge which kills the foremost essence of contemporary journalism, service for the greater good of all of humanity.
Baffled, as the answer to the question has left the journalism community, the Press Union of Liberia will in this very public and honorable manner request your respective interventions to ask President Weah and his officials to end their attacks and persecution of journalists for the good of one of the world’s foremost peace building projects (Liberia). We pray to your consciences that you ask His Excellency, George M. Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia to provide the world with a chronology detailing scrupulously when, where, why, what and how Jonathan Paye-Layleh undercut his work for human rights in Liberia.
The Liberian Journalism Community will also appreciate an explanation to the world, evidence that will back claims of Jonathan depicting a positive image of the carnage of the Liberian Civil War during his coverage.
April 9, 2018: Information Minister Len Eugene Nagbe in an apparent move to cement the allegation of Jonathan depicting a positive image of the civil war accused the BBC Correspondent of being a key member of the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) propaganda machinery. The Information Minister told local dailies that he is surprised at Mr. Paye-Layleh for seeking asylum in the United States only because of what he calls a “reconciliatory statement President George Weah made to him in Monrovia recently.”
These scanty propagandistic infusions give no detailed explanation as to which story or pieces Jonathan wrote which promoted the war and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. All these propagandistic infusions have done is to provide reasons for ordinary die-hards of the President to attack Paye- Layleh and set the stage for intimidations and harassments of journalists who will report critical pieces on running government.
Winning the runoff Presidential Vote of 2017 by more than 61 percent clearly defines the popularity of President Weah across Liberia and accusing one of our top journalists of being against him (Weah) in an inexplicable manner and the attending confusion that have tagged number of clarifications made by different officials of government only but endanger the life of Jonathan Paye- Layleh.
Mr. President’s strange flare-up against Paye-Layleh in the full view of the world is deflecting the Liberian’s journalistic substance in a competitive international newsroom setting for two leading global news networks. Mr. Jonathan Paye-Layleh also reports for the Associated Press News Agency. Please eminent ladies and gentlemen, the Liberian President’s detailed explanation will end this national standup which is fast moving toward the burning of the journalist career on unsubstantiated comments.
Every second which passes without President Weah providing clarity on his accusation against the BBC Correspondent leaves the Journalism Community more anxious for individual professionals’ personal safety.
Monday, April 9, 2018: The Offices of FrontPage Africa (FPA) was raided on orders of authorities of a Monrovia Civil Law Court. Early Monday, sheriffs from the Court in a move to enforce a writ of summon against the FPA arrested all its employees, including cleaners and an expediter.
We only see the arrest which disrupted the normal operations of the paper as an embarrassing return to the use of the court and private citizens to harass journalists. It is unacceptable that the rights of journalists and media workers are beginning to be violated under the pretexts of civil lawsuits when the underlining motives are rooted in intolerance for dissent and freedom of the independent press.
To file a civil suit with an attachment is a replay of ploys of the immediate past which imprisoned journalists on dreadful defamation damages.
The merits of the civil suit which disrupted works of the FPA Monday, April 9, 2018 cannot pass the minimum reasoning to warrant the sort of power exercised except being accompanied by deep seated prejudice of faceless powers.
For employees of a newspaper to be seized like common criminals in the absence of a writ of execution and the use of a criminal attachment (legal instrument) in a democracy is a shame and all we say is this is especially undemocratic and must be stopped immediately.
Moreover, the Press Union of Liberia is most respectfully drawing the specific attention of Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor to the use of civil deformation suits with attachment. This practice punishes before cases are even call to order for accused to be listened to.
We will most respectfully exhaust all legal means in our quest for an explanation to an upsurge in intimidations, harassments and attacks against journalists- specifically the allegation against Mr. Jonathan Paye-Layleh. An explanation is needed!!!
Thanks very kindly.
Charles B. Coffey, Jr.
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