Liberia: Lawmaker Acknowledges Brutality against Journalists; Receives Petition from Press Union of Liberia

The leadership of the Press Union of Liberia presents petition to the House of Representatives, calling for the heads of state security agencies to be questioned with these violent acts against journalists

Monrovia – Montserrado County Electoral District #4 Representative Rustolyn Suacoco Dennis Thursday, March 12, acknowledged all the claims made by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) as it relates to state security brutalities against members of the press.

After receiving the PUL petition from its President, Mr. Charles Coffey, Rep. Dennis thanked the scores of Liberian journalists for being very peaceful in the conduct of their demonstration.

“There is no need to say this is not true because we have seen it with our naked eyes; we watch the videos where journalists and media practitioners have been mal-handled by security apparatus of the George Weah-led government,” stated Rep. Dennis.

She condemned the actions of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and the Executive Protective Services (EPS) for being violent and unprofessional in the discharge of duty against journalists.

“In my capacity as a representative, I strongly condemn the EPS and the police for the brutality against journalists in Liberia. We have come a long way and if they don’t know that we have graduated from the past, where journalists where intimidated and maltreated. I take the President’s action as a great deal of deception,” she condemned.

Rep. Dennis, however, expressed disappointment in the PUL for not standing up and holding the government’s feet to the fire in the case of the late Journalist Zenu Miller.

“Again, you have the power in your hands; looking at all of the microphones here, all the cameras and all of the media institutions represented, it is the government that should be petitioning you to report good stories for them that is if you are united in your form,” stated Rep. Dennis, who is the Chairperson on Claims and Petition in the House of Representatives.

“It doesn’t matter which media houses you are from; you also need to build your institution – the PUL – to be an independent body. Do not allow your institutions to be a partisan-institutions. You are there to even checkmate senators and representatives among others. In your absence, democracy doesn’t work effectively,” she stressed.

Before the House of Representatives had received the Liberian journalists’ petition, they had earlier gone to the US Embassy and European Union Office near Monrovia to present copies of their petition.

Diplomatic Responses

Both the EU Delegation and US Embassy in separate statements acknowledged receipt of the document. The EU representative told the Union’s leadership that they have listened to their concerns and we will act appropriately through their diplomacy channels. While the US Embassy promised to get back soon to the Union with their response.

Also, the PUL members also visited the offices of Ecowas, United Nations and the UK Embassy. Representatives of each of those places validated the legitimacy of the concerns raised by the PUL in its petition. Specifically, the Ecowas Rep. promised to work with the government so as to avert any future occurrence of abuse against journalists. Ambassador Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo cautioned the media institutions to responsibly carryout their duties.

Executive Response the PUL Petition

Providing a response to the PUL petition, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe along with Mr. Nathaniel F. McGill, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, said, “This government takes the issue of press freedom very seriously.” He further stated that the President Weah will review the PUL petition. He added: “There will be quick action taken as early as next week, so we can have a finality to this issue of journalists being beaten and the brutality that have been complained about.”

He stressed that the government has no policy for journalist to be beaten. “So, we all have an interest to ensure that this stops. I can assure you that the President will take quick action.

“There have been several reviews of the security forces. So, it is not like nothings have happened before. Perhaps what have happened has not been sufficient. So, the fact that you have delivered a petition means the President will take the right action,” Min. Nagbe added.

PUL Petition Statement

The PUL said in its petition that since its formation back in 1964, there continues to be attacks, detention, intimidation and suppression of the media and media workers with several colleagues losing their lives to tyrannical and brutal security officers with impunity.

“These brutal attitudes towards journalists remain a major challenge for the Press Union of Liberia with successive governments doing little or nothing to advert this maltreatment of journalists simply for doing their jobs.”

The Union, among other things in its petition, maintains that the protection of free speech, freedom of the press and protection for media workers are fundamental rights under the Constitution of Liberia, the United Nations Convention on People and Human Rights and the African Union Convention on Human Rights.

The Union further enumerated how recently its members have been brutalized by state security forces. “The attacks, detention, intimidation and brutality meted against media practitioners have become unprecedented with seven journalists being attacked just in two weeks and 10 attacked in three months across the country.

“PUL considers these attacks, detentions, intimidations and brutality against media personnel as deliberate attempts to force journalists into self-censorship and deny the public of credible, balanced and accurate reports of the operations of the government.

“In January 2020, the late Journalist Zenu K. Miller complained of being whipped by some officers of the Executive Protection Service while trying to leave the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex where he was providing radio commentary for Okay FM at the finals of the National County Sports Meet. The Government of Liberia failed to launch an investigation into his flogging long before his death.

“The Government of Liberia only apologized for its failure to promptly investigate and offered to conduct an autopsy after the journalist`s death which was refused by the family. Another Journalist Christopher Walker, a reporter at FrontPageAfrica was brutally flogged by some officers of the Liberia National Police at a semi-final game of the National County Sports Meet and the LNP yet to investigate and penalize the officers who whipped the journalist.

“A Journalist in the Southeastern County of Maryland, Bryant Duo, was assaulted by officers of the Liberia National Police at a checkpoint in Rivercess County, while travelling to Harper from Monrovia. Duo had sought to board another vehicle after going through the security check since the check of the vehicle and other occupants was prolonged.

“In February 2020, Journalist Kennedy Koloh, Manager at the Rivercess Broadcasting System was attacked by officers of the Liberia National Police and briefly detained in Yarpah Town, Rivercess County while travelling to Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.”

This report was contributed to by our reporters, including Alline Dunbar, [email protected] and Webster C. Clayeh, websterc[email protected]