Liberia: Special Presidential Committee to Investigate Allegations of Brutality against Journalists

Journalists hold up signs protesting what they claim has been a pattern of using excessive force against them by the police and members of the government’s security forces in Monrovia, Liberia, on March 12, 2020. – Journalists have long accused the government’s security forces and the police of using excessive force at events they cover. (Photo by Carielle Doe / AFP)

Monrovia – The Presidential Committee appointed by President George Manneh Weah to investigate the allegations of brutality against some journalists by State Security remains committed to its task and will continue to work gradually and incrementally until the possibility of a full-scale investigation can begin in light of COVID-19.

On April 26, 2020, a member of the committee, Mr. Peter Quaqua  took to Social Media and other outlets with a statement announcing his withdrawal from the committee’s work for reasons that I must say are elementarily intangible for the following reasons to wit;

1. The Presidential Committee has not met physically, but it has met virtually. As Chair of the Committee and given the presence of COVIP-19, I created a WhatsApp CR where all members of the committee are present. That was the beginning of our meetings to plan for our work.

2. An investigative questionnaire and other procedures to guide the committee’s work were developed by a member of the committee who is a Security Expert, Mr. Theophilus Momo Cyrus. He subsequently sent the documents to every member of the committee for feedback. To date, though Mr. Peter Quaqua acknowledged receipt of the documents, he has yet to offer any feedback or comments when this was the Committee’s first action.

 3. The CR is active and was created for the committee to use to brain-storm together how it would proceed given the COVID-19 and every member is free to discuss therein how she/he feels regarding progress, slow progress or no progress   being made by the committee. To date, the records in the CR shows that Mr. Peter Quaqua expressed no such concerns.

4. The Presidential Committee members were appointed by the President of the Republic by the issuance of ‘Presidential Letters’ and not via Facebook or other social media platforms.  If Mr. Peter Quaqua felt dissatisfied for any reason, the responsible and respectful thing to have done was to first express same within the Committee’s CR and or write a letter to the President, not to take to Facebook.

5. It is no secret that the world has come to a standstill, Liberia being no exception due to the presence of COVID-19.  Amidst the high risks involved, the closure of most of the activities in the country, the imposition of health protocols to include social distancing and now a State of Emergency inclusive of a Lockdown,  conducting an investigation under these conditions that would be effective with the required outcomes would be quite difficult and in some instances impossible.  Wisdom would dictate that we wait a while in order to protect all involved.

6. Some of the journalists who have accused members of the State Security of abuses are located in counties that are distanced from Monrovia. They need to be heard and as well the members of the State Security need to face their accusers.  How can we accomplish   this effectively amidst COVID-19 restrictions? We have all been instructed to STAY AT HOME AND WORK FROM HOME. Many journalists have expressed to me that they too are working from home as best they can.

The government is absolutely committed to investigating all the allegations contained in the Press Union of Liberia’s Petition as President Weah has made this a priority. I have been in touch with the leadership of the Press Union regarding the difficulties in holding the investigation (face-to-face) amidst COVID-19 and have also requested all the notes, letters and any and all information relating to the alleged abuses in order for the Committee to begin to review same while we wait. I have only on today learnt that the PUL has set up a committee to work along with the Presidential Committee and we welcome that and look forward to working in tandem.

Our nation is currently in a state of ill-health as our entire world is in a state of ill-health. The priority for us all at the moment should be to push for the eradication of COVID-19 so that our nation can return to a healthy state, for if the nation is not healthy, no journalist or anyone in our nation will be healthy.

Finally, when we are called to public service, we should embrace same in good faith and strive to do what we can with sincerity void of personal grandstanding.  For Mr. Quaqua  who himself is unable to bring people together in a room to hold a WAJA meeting amidst COVID-19  to conclude that because there is less speed in the Presidential Committee’s work  the government is not sincere in its effort to investigate allegations of abuses against journalist is  contrived. 

The Presidential Committee respects the leadership of the Press Union of Liberia and remains committed to the mandate it has received from the President of the Republic of Liberia.  The Committee looks forward to finding the safest space and time to complete its work.