Clarification From The Presidency Fuels Confusion Over Press Freedom


PRESIDENT GEORGE WEAH’S accusation against Mr. Jonathan Paye Layleh is still ruffling feathers even as the Office of the President rushed to put out fires in the wake of the President’s declaration against the BBC correspondent last Thursday.

PAYE LAYLEH WAS ONLY seeking clarity from the President’s office after the President made some damning accusations against him during a Press Stakeout at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the President and Madam Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.

PAYE LAYLEH was right to ask questions relating to the civil war which killed thousands of Liberians. His question to Ms. Mohammed was simple. Would the UN support efforts in Liberia to set up a war crimes court like it did in Sierra Leone? In the same question, he asked President Weah if he too was willing to allow such a process in Liberia because Human Rights Watch had asked him to create an avenue for victims of the Liberian wars to face their alleged perpetrators?

TO MR. PAYE LAYLEH, the rest of Liberia and the international community’s surprise, President Weah launched a scathing accusation on the BBC correspondent, accusing him on a live broadcast that when he (President Weah) was working for human rights in Liberia before becoming President, Paye Layleh was one person against him.

TO THE SURPRISE OF MANY, the Office of the President, while seeking to offer clarity on the issue, made it even worse, insisting that Mr. Paye Layleh had done something to the President in the past.

THE STATEMENT READ: “The Office of the President clarifies that as a long-time 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. “

MANY, BESIDES the President’s usual praise singers and sycophants, have been expressing outrage over the response from the President’s office.

IN A STATEMENT MONDAY, the Press Union of Liberia took issue with President Weah’s accusation that Paye-Layleh undercut his (President Weah’s) struggle for human rights in Liberia. 

THE PUL CHARGED that the clarification from the President’s office exposes only how petit the Office of the President is headed into tearing down one of Liberia’s revered journalists in the eye of the world. “Paye-Layleh’s coverage of the civil war informed the world on dire humanitarian crisis created by the upheaval during which time some of the President’s trusted aides were passionate supporters of warring factions. It is these lenses of preferred warring belligerents which has blinded the Executive Mansion from seeing the ethical and heroic works of the BBC Journalists,” the PUL noted.

FrontPageAfrica has made several google searches of Mr. Paye-Layleh’s articles for the BBC going as far back as the days of the civil war and it has been unable to find a particular article where he wrote a negative story against the President.

PAYE-LAYLEH HIMSELF has said he can not recall any confrontation with Mr. Weah even before he became President. “We all have instead given promotion to all that he has done, as a footballer, a 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.

IN THE WAKE OF all that is unfolding and the confusion over the unclear clarity from the President’s office, we feel strongly that the onus is still on the President to cite examples and instances where Mr. Paye Layleh undermined or undercut his advocacy for human rights.

AS MR. PAYE-LAYLEH HAS SAID, he fears for the scores of the President’s supporters who could interpret what he said the wrong way and put his life in danger. He, like every other journalist or critic of the government deserve to express their views freely and without fear or intimidation.

SINGLING OUT a journalist without offering instances and examples is bad. Mr. Weah must understand that he is President for all Liberians and not just a few. The campaign days are over. He must begin to reconcile with everyone, not just those who supports him or sing his praises. If he cannot do that, we are afraid, he will never be able to reconcile Liberia, a nation still struggling from its ugly and brutal past.