Monrovia - The British Broadcasting Corporation’s correspondent in Liberia, Jonathan Paye-Layleh has left the country fearing reprisals from President George Weah’s followers.
Airport sources say Paye-Layleh was seen going through immigration and in conversation with a New York Immigration officer who later helped to collect his luggage after stamping his passport.
His daughter and three grandchildren later hugged and received him as they left the airport.
It is not clear whether the trip was planned before the saga with President Weah and whether he plans to return to Liberia soon.
It can be recalled that the verbal altercations between the President and Jonathan began on March 22, during a media stakeout with the visiting United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Amina J. Mohammed and other foreign dignitaries, in which he (Jonathan) said the President accused him of being against him with his reportage.
Mr. Paye-layleh took serious exception to the President’s comments and began seeking clarity from the President.
“You can never tell what this would mean to Mr. President's tens of thousands of supporters some of whom are too young to be able to analyse issues. I have asked the Press Union of Liberia and the entire media community to seek an explanation from Mr. President,” he had said following the President’s allegation against him.
“We all have instead given promotion to all that he has done, as footballer, former footballer and as a politician; he was never in any human rights work as far as I know and even if he was in any human rights struggle, I could never have been against him for working for human rights in Liberia."
"I think a clear explanation from the President or his office - citing instances - will give an insight into what the allegations are. When a President says an individual is or was against him, it means a lot.”
This prompted the office of the President to issue a statement clarifying that the President is in no way against the BBC reporter, rather President Weah’s response should be seen in the context of his determination to foster peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.
“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”.
However, contrary to Mr. Paye-Layleh’s concerns, President Weah’s response should be seen in the context of his determination to foster peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.
Following the issuance of the Presidential statement, Mr. Paye-Layleh, in an open letter to the President, First Lady Clar Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, expressed dismay and asserted that the press statement, instead of vindicating him, indicted him the more.
“To say I am baffled by these allegations and verbal attacks is an understatement; my media work in Liberia for more than two decades has largely been about trying to help create a society that we can call democratic…
“The purpose of this open letter is to ask you to plead with Mr. President to explain openly how I was ever against his human rights advocacy and how did I depict a positive image of the wartime carnage. I am very serious about this,” he wrote.
He continued: “President Weah’s unexplained outburst against me in the full glare of international dignitaries at an event that was meant to talk peace as the United Nations Mission departs Liberia has inflicted the heaviest wounds to my person, character and professional standing; and his press statement that follows has even injured me more.”