Liberia: Pres. Weah Linked to Intimidating, Harassing ‘Critical’ Journalist Charles Yates

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Monrovia – The Publisher of the Integrity Watch newspaper, Charles Yates, is being subjected to interrogation by agents of the National Security Agency (NSA) following comments he posted on the social media, in which he accused the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led government of President George Manneh Weah of being “corrupt and bias” in implementing health protocols intended to curb the Coronavirus pandemic.

Journalist Yates reportedly underwent investigation for several days at the headquarters of the NSA in Monrovia.

Meanwhile, Mr. Yates has been released temporarily to his lawyer but it remains unclear whether the NSA will continue the investigation.

In February 2019, President Weah signed a law decriminalizing speech, amending Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President, 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence.

The Kamara Abdullah Kamara (KAK) Act of Press Freedom was named in honor of the fallen President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). It is expected to strengthen Liberia’s commitment to several legal instruments such as Freedom of Information Act, the Table Mountain Declaration, many others.

Despite the passage of the Act, journalists continue to be intimidated either for assertions made on their various platforms or comments posted on the social media-Facebook.

Yates, who is a social media blogger, appears to be latest journalist to be harassed and intimidated by NSA. On three occasions, Yates was invited for interrogation at the headquarters of the NSA in Monrovia for his comments posted on the social media. He spent three, five, and four hours respectively when he appeared.

In the social media post, which prompted his interrogation, journalist Yates questioned the Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah and the Director of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Dr. Mosoka Fallah, why a “special female” friend of President Weah, Madam Fatu Sheriff Schmidt was not quarantined when she came to Liberia from Germany, a country hit hard by COVID-19.

Madam Schmidt reportedly entered into Liberia but was given a VIP escort from the Roberts International Airport (RIA), without being quarantined along with several other persons including the Acting Chairman of the Council of Patriots (COP), Mo Ali.

At that time, health authorities had mandated that travellers from countries with over 200 cases of the virus will be quarantined for 14 days.

Journalist Yates also expressed dismay over his removal from a social media chat room comprising of top health officials as a result of critical inquiries he made to authorities about the pandemic.

“This is the Liberia we find ourselves in where the government is doing everything possible to silent critical voices. But guess what? They have given me more reasons to deal with them publicly. My page is under my own authority and no one can censor me on my page,” he said after he was removed from the group chat.

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Speaking in a telephone interview with FrontPage Africa on Tuesday, Yates accused President Weah of being the mastermind behind his interrogation by the NSA.

He claimed that he has been reliably informed by some sources at the Executive Mansion and the NSA that the President previously ordered his arrest, but he was advised by NSA authorities not to do so.

He noted that though NSA authorities encouraged the President to abandon his quest to have him investigated, President Weah allegedly insisted that Yates be called upon for further investigation.

He added that the alleged move by the Liberian Chief Executive is a complete act of “intimidation and harassment of critical voices in the country”.

“The NSA is being used to achieve a selfish political agenda. Under no circumstances will the NSA headed by Mr. Henry Pearson will decide to summon a journalist for his opinion expressed on social media. This came from the Executive Mansion,” he alleged.

“Before I was even invited, I got the information a day that the Executive Mansion wanted to have me arrested. This case is not an NSA case; this case is an Executive Mansion case”.

Meanwhile, Yates has called for the intervention of the Liberian media community.

“It is time for the media community in Liberia to rise up. Sometimes, just issuing mere press statements condemning government’s action is not just sufficient; sometimes the media need to come together and tell the world enough is enough — we give them a media blockout. The Executive Mansion should stop intimidating journalists”.

But reacting to Yates’ allegation at the Executive Mansion regular press briefing on Tuesday, Deputy Presidential Press Secretary Smith Toby stated that the Executive Mansion will not give credence to claims by the Liberian journalist.

“You know, when you are president, there are all kinds of things that will come in your name. To speak to Charles Yates issue is a disservice to this platform — Executive Mansion press briefing — and I am not even giving credence to that,” Toby said.

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