“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.