Liberia: Serious Reservation About Bropleh’s Appointment On Investigation Committee
Sacramento, CA – My attention has been drawn to a report in the March 19, 2020 edition of the Liberian Observer, titled: “Government Sets Committee to Probe Journalists’ Petition.” According to the report, the government has constituted a five-man committee headed by Dr. Laurence K. Bropleh, former Minister of Information, to probe a petition presented by members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) on March 12, 2020, on allegations of harassment and violence meted out against journalists.
Gabriel I.H. Williams, [email protected], Contributing Writer
I have serious reservations about Bropleh’s appointment as head of the investigation committee.
I view with grave concern, developments surrounding the prevailing state of the Liberian media because I am a career journalist, who has been involved in the struggle for free speech and democratic governance in Liberia since the 1980s, during the brutal military regime of Samuel Doe. I served on the executive committee of the PUL for about the six years, during which I was respectively elected Assistant Secretary-General and Secretary-General when the Liberian civil war erupted. I took on the mantle of acting President of the PUL during the early years of the civil war, when then PUL President Isaac D.E. Bantu and Vice President Emmanuel Abalo – who also acted when Bantu left- were each forced to vote with their feet to seek refuge abroad due to death threats. I was also once apprehended by armed men, a gun placed to my head and I was almost executed for my role as a journalist before subsequently fleeing the country due to growing death threats.
From Samuel Doe’s ruthless security forces to Charles Taylor’s notorious armed gangs, journalists and media entities deemed to be critical were routinely attacked along with leaders of the PUL for speaking out. During the respective Doe and Taylor regimes, journalists and other activists were killed in the struggle for free speech and human rights. The PUL was one of Liberia’s leading organizations in the advocacy for free speech and democratic governance.
Despite the terror and brutality Liberian journalists and rights activists suffered in the past, significant progress was made in post-war Liberia towards freedom of speech, human rights, and democratic governance. This is why it is alarming to note that the democratic gains made are being eroded and Liberia is turning back to the recent evil past, when corrupt and barbaric regimes clamped down on the press, including the murder of journalists and activists, to suppress dissent. The growing wave of violence against journalists in Liberia, under which one journalist has already died under questionable circumstances, is an indication that the Weah government is headed on the wrong side of history.
On March 12, 2020, members of the PUL assembled in their numbers and marched through the streets of Monrovia under the scorching sun to present a petition to the government of Liberia, copies of which were also presented to the U.S. Embassy, as well as representatives of the European Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), among others.
According to the petition, ”in recent months, attacks, detention, intimidation, and brutality meted against media practitioners have become unprecedented, with seven journalists being attacked just in two weeks and ten attacked in three months across the country.” The petition recounted numerous acts of violence journalists have suffered since the government of President George M. Weah came to power a little over two years ago.
For example, members of the Liberian press and the family of broadcast journalist Zenu Miller are still grieving the sudden and shocking death of the young enterprising journalist on February 15, 2020, about three weeks after he was allegedly assaulted by officers of the Executive Protection Service (EPS), the presidential bodyguards. Since he was allegedly beaten, Miller reportedly complained of pain in his body and he stayed away from work for about two weeks. Even though the medical result reportedly points to hypertension as the cause of Miller’s sudden death, there has not been a thorough examination or investigation to determine what caused the pain that he complained about after he was allegedly beaten by President Weah’s bodyguards.
In the petition, the PUL called on the Weah government to “commission a transparent and broad-based investigation of the accused security agencies and their officers complicit in these wanton human rights violations, with the view to penalize those who will be found guilty.”
Considering the critical importance of ensuring a transparent investigation, I wish to express a very serious reservation regarding the appointment of Dr. Bropleh, who is currently serving as Special Envoy and Advisor to President Weah. Putting a government functionary in charge of the investigation, especially someone who works in the office of the President clearly undermines the integrity of the process in the eyes of the public.
I, therefore, call on President Weah to reconstitute the investigation committee by appointing a new head, which should be an individual who is publicly regarded as a person of high integrity, in order to inspire public confidence. It is unacceptable to have the investigation committee headed by a close presidential aide when state security forces and individuals in government are those accused of violence and other acts of human rights abuses against journalists, whose crimes have simply been reporting developments in Liberia.
Accordingly, in order to ensure that the investigation process is not compromised, I herewith recommend that the committee be headed by a credible independent individual with media or legal background. Even though President Weah is surrounded by many individuals known to be culpable of economic crimes against the state and human rights abuses, there is no shortage of honorable men and women in Liberia, one of whom could be appointed to serve as head of the investigation committee. I call out President Weah that he is not serving the public interest by continuing the practice of recycling in government service, individuals who were found to have used their previous government posts to be involved in economic crimes and human rights abuses. To have corruption-tainted individuals shamelessly parading the corridors of government as big shots, when some of them should be behind bars, is a reflection of Liberia’s dysfunctional state of affairs, which you have embodied.
Based on the history of the Weah government, the investigation committee as constituted is nothing more than a whitewash to cover-up yet another government scandal, as was in the case of the missing millions of public funds the Weah government has been unable to account for. Liberians have yet to see any meaningful actions from the President based on the reports from the committees that he constituted to investigate the missing millions of dollars.
In this light, it is clear that the committee is constituted simply to appease the international community. It would, therefore, be a waste of public money to fund the activities of the investigation committee, as constituted, at a time Phebe Hospital and other medical facilities around Liberia are desperately in need of funds to purchase fuel to keep functional.
In the fullness of time, President Weah and his collaborators will account for their stewardship of Liberia. Let him hope that he and some of his collaborators do not end up behind bars like Charles Taylor and some of his criminal collaborators, who are languishing in jail.