ALJA Wants Pres. Weah Retract Characterization of BBC’s Paye-Laleh

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ALJA President Moses Sandy

“As one of those that were against him” when he was advocating for human rights in Liberia

The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) says it is troubled by Liberia’s President, George Weah’s recent portrayal of Liberian journalist Jonathan Paye-Layleh as one of those who was against him when he was advocating for Liberia.

Mr. Paye-Layleh is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Associated Press News Agency (AP), local correspondent in Liberia.

ALJA states the President’s reference to Mr. Paye-Layleh is very unfortunate and the implications of such pronouncement from the most powerful person in Liberia in terms of press freedom and free speech are enormous. The Association in a press release issued on March 28, maintained the President misspoke and he should muster the courage to retract the statement and publicly apologize to Mr. Paye-Layleh and the Liberian fourth estate as a whole for the misspoken words.

It may be recalled that on March 22, Mr. Paye-Layleh asked President Weah during a news conference held in Monrovia with the then visiting UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, if he is committed to Human Rights Watch’s recent call on him to create an avenue for victims of the Liberian wars to face their alleged perpetrators? In response, the President angrily remarked, “When I was working for human rights in Liberia before becoming president, you were one person that has been against him.”

The US-based Liberian press corps said the President’s pronouncement sets a bad precedent and it further undermines the Table Mountain Declaration, which protects journalists including Mr. Paye-Layleh against persecution in the exercise of press freedom and free speech on the African continent. Liberia is a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration.

Moreover, ALJA said Mr. Weah’s statement has the potential of reversing the unfettered press freedom and free speech which Liberians enjoyed during the reign of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The Association noted it is too early for the President, who for the past twelve years, spent countless hours, days, nights and weeks shuttling the Liberian political landscape making promises of building a utopian society for Liberians, to literally start butting heads with journalists including the BBC and AP’s local correspondent for simply executing their professional duties.

On the March 25, press release which Presidential Press Secretary, Sam Mannah, issued as  clarification in the wake of Mr. Weah’s verbal attack against journalist Paye-Layleh, ALJA noted that the press statement further exacerbated the situation rather than helping the President save face.

ALJA observed that Mr. Mannah’s assertion that when President Weah was reportedly advocating for justice and creating awareness about the gross human rights violations that were being perpetrated against Liberians during the nation’s civil wars, Mr. Paye-Laleh, and others were bent on undermining his efforts by depicting a positive image of the carnage, insinuates that he has limited or no factual understanding of what obtained during the Liberian civil wars.

ALJA said during the fratricidal wars, Liberian journalists including Mr. Paye-Layleh and their counterparts the world over, in the discharge of their professional duties, reported what transpired at the time, but they never “depicted a positive image of the carnage” as claimed by the inexperienced Presidential Press Secretary.

Meanwhile, ALJA said it “detests the claims by President Weah and Mr. Mannah that during the Liberian civil wars he was an ardent advocate for human rights and social justice in Liberia.” The Association maintained that President Weah and Press Secretary Mannah are in error and they are on the wrong side of history because President Weah has no public records of such an advocacy.

ALJA said it would graciously appreciate if the President and his Press Secretary could back their claims with documentary evidence.

ALJA acknowledged that Mr. Weah as an iconic footballer was in 1994 appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Liberia and for several years he worked with the organization in heralding the plight of Liberian children and the propagation of Polio and HIV/AIDS program messages in Liberia and abroad.

Despite his ambassadorial duties, ALJA maintained that the President has never been in the vanguard or a face of any conspicuous human rights advocacy in Liberia.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. As of 2017, Liberia ranks 94th on the World Press Freedom Index according to Reporters Without Borders. This is a slight improvement of press freedom in Liberia under the leadership of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

    Is Liberia heading down a slippery slope to its dark dictatorial days when press freedom was suppressed in Liberia? Liberians vividly remember when journalists were imprisoned and sometimes murdered for speaking the truth.

    When President Weah uses his power to publicly scold, rebuke, humiliate or reprimand Jonathan Paye-Layleh, a veteran news reporter and a prominent member of the press in Liberia, for reporting news coverage during the war and recently asking President Weah relevant questions appertaining to constituting a war crime court in Liberia, only to be castigated by the President as “one of those who was against him when he (President Weah) was advocating for Liberia.” This form of public rebuke is an intimidating strategy that tries to put fear in journalists from exercising their freedom of expression.

    No Journalist is against President Weah. Jonathan was only carrying out his functions and responsibilities of reporting the news as the brutal and destructive war unfolded in Liberia. Reporting from any war front is a risky business that puts any journalist’s life in danger. Therefore, it is reckless to conclude that Mr. Paye reporting of the Liberian civil war was a “depiction of a positive image of the carnage” by the President Press Secretary. This is totally absurd and ludicrous.

    The press freedom that all Liberians enjoyed over the last twelve years under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf should not be eroded by this new government through suppression, intimidation, threats, and whatever subversive tactics that could arouse President Weah’s staunch loyalists to retaliate on an innocent individual for carrying out his day-to-day duty of simply exercising every Liberian citizen’s right to free speech which is a universal human rights.

    Liberia’s new democracy cannot wholly function if free press is not allowed to circulate news, inform, comment, and hold those in authority accountable. The press is cardinal to a functional democracy because it serves as a watchdog: the press disseminates and conveys what is going on in a democratic society. That is, if Liberia purports to hold these tenets of a Democratic nation.

    I pray that corrective measures of a sincere apology and genuine reconciliation be made if this new government intends to maintain the hard-won peace we all sacrificed to maintain so far because foolish pride not to reconcile leads us nowhere as we witnessed with President Doe and Taylor.

    Again, Press Freedom in Liberia is paramount to the wholesome functioning democratic process in Liberia.

    May God bless the Republic of Liberia as we strive to keep the peace in the absence of UNMIL!!!

  2. ALJA has completely lost its mind. Where is the fare and Balanced? You are now the judge who has entered into judgement that the President is in the wrong??? Matter of fact, how is Mr. Paye-Laleh’s life is threaten? If thats how the President feels, I am sure that he should be able to provide evidence to substantiate his case. ALJA, why are you jumping into conclusion???

  3. The president himself has the right to express his feelings. Freedom of speech also applies to the president as well so long no one is threaten. Donald expresses his feelings about various media institutions in America all the time so I don’t see any issues here, besides the president has already clarified that the Journalist has nothing to fear.

    • Kai, you are comparing apple and oranges when you compare political situations in America or compare American president to that of Liberia. Liberian presidents have the history of silencing their critics by murdering them. Charles Gbayon for example, was allegedly murdered by Samuel Doe’s hinge men for reporting on the abortive coup in 1985. Nothing of such has ever happened in the United States and it will never happened. Donald Trump’s followers will never go after a reporter for criticizing Donald Trump or asking him tough questions or pointing out his flaws. American politicians or leaders will have disagreements on policy but will never seek to end the life of their critics opponents. This president behavior is thuggish as was observed from the first election in 2005 and during his quest for the office over the last twelve years by his thuggish followers. His followers were seen publicly intimidating people at hotels and other public places for no apparent reasons. His behavior is dangerous and thuggish. He has no documentary evidence to back his claim. My only assumption is that perhaps he does not understand or know the meaning of the phrase “Human Rights Advocate” which he claimed was.

  4. ALJA, I want you to know that Jonathan Paye-Layleh, a veteran news reporter and a prominent member of the press in Liberia, wants to undermine the peace we have enjoyed for the past 10 years during Ellen regime. ALJA, you are in the diaspora and judging our president. Liberians are tired of runing around this time. It was this same Jonathan Paye-layleh who was given fake news about the teritories that were controll by Charles Taylor of which the peaceful election held in 1997 was never materialized. ALJA you ar in the diaspora, some of you are part of the deportees therefore you want to spark up another problem in Liberia, so that your time of still in the US can be increase. I expect ALJA to think about how Liberians can totally forget the past but instill want to increase our problems.
    You are drinking honey and milk, riding Luxurious cars, your children never get hungry but Liberians in Liberia cannot even afford to eat.

    ALJA, If you love Jonathan Paye-layleh and the Liberians, Contribute to the pro-poor Government.

  5. Is Mr. Weah’s assertion incorrect? Is his characterization wrong or correct? First, seek the truth…Then we can go from there…Let’s be fair.

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