The committee set up by the Liberian government to investigate claims of brutality against journalists by state security officers has accused those journalists, who claimed they were brutalized, for impeding the committee’s work.
In a statement, the committee through its chair, Dr. Laurence K. Bropleh, said since May 5, none of the complainant journalists has responded to their questionnaires, which are intended to seek pertinent information relating to the alleged abuse(s) including the names of the accused State Security Officers, and the place of occurrence, among other things.
Dr. Bropleh, a former Minister of Information during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration and currently a Special Envoy and Advisor to President George Manneh Weah, said upon receipt of the questionnaire, the committee will then engage the state security officers and begin to hold hearings.
“To date, not a single journalist from amongst the 10 names that the committee received from the Press Union of Liberia who received the investigative questionnaire has responded by sending in their completed questionnaire and it has been 16 days since they were sent the questionnaire,” Bropleh added.
The former government minister added that although the “committee notes that the lack of responses from the affected journalists is stalling its work,” it remains committed to the complete the task given to them by the President.
Meanwhile, the committee chair has said that they have written the President of PUL and its Secretary-General regarding the matter for their timely intervention.
How media practitioners have reacted
Bropleh’s appointment as the committee chair did not go down well with some journalists because of his close ties to the President. His statement yesterday has angered journalists who believe that the former information minister is not interested in investigating the concern of the media community, rather to play delay tactics until it dies.
According to the journalists, Bropleh erred by requiring those affected by state security brutality to name the individual perpetrators when, in fact, it is not just one or two people.
They further argued that, when journalists are being assaulted, they do not have the time to be searching on the badges of state security officers or ask them for their names.
“Therefore, the act by Bropleh to base his investigations on journalists name their perpetrators is intended to kill the journalists’ claims and present the government as a saint,” the Journalists added.
Backing such a claim, Bryan B. Dioh, who is one of the 10 journalists whose complaints the committee is tasked to investigate, said that on the day he was beaten, he never had the opportunity to spot the security personnel’s name on their badges.
“The first thing is, I am a one of the victims of the brutality. But from that day up to now, I cannot name any of the joint security personnel who attack me,” said Bryan, who works with Phinix FM in Maryland County. “So it is difficult for me to name the security personnel when they were up to six.”
What did the PUL SAY?
Reacting to Bropleh, the President of PUL, Charles Coffey has said the Union is shocked that the committee would issue a statement they (PUL) were asked just two days ago to look into the committee’s claims of the delays by journalists responding to the committee’s questionnaires.
“The concern of the committee through its chair was raised with us on Wednesday night. Immediately, we embarked on a fact-finding mission to get a clear understanding of the picture.
“But to our utmost surprise,” Mr. Coffey said, “the committee went on to release a statement without waiting for us to get back to them as they have asked.”
Coffey further added that the action by the Bropleh and the other committee members is “premature because they were contacted later and needed time to verify the issue at stake.”
The PUL president added that even though they have been informed of the delays in the journalists’ response to the questionnaires, the PUL has not seen a copy of the questionnaire. This is in spite of the fact that the PUL submitted a copy of all of its own investigation documents from those very complaints to the Bropleh Committee.
“I understand that the committee wants to hear the journalists stories themselves; fine. However, it should consider taking into consideration the complaints of each of the journalists sent to them. It was them that requested for it, so they should look at it,” he added,
The Bropleh Committee
The Bropleh committee came into existence on March 12 after the PUL petition the government amid street protests by reporters, to look into claims of brutality against journalists.
In its early days, the committee found it difficult to meet; thereby leading to one of its members, Peter Quaqua, President of the West Africa Journalists Association (WAJA), to resign from the committee.
“I have been very reluctant to take this decision in the interest of the afflicted journalists, especially after being urged by some colleagues and relations to stay the course, against calls by few to back down. Essentially, after giving what I thought was sufficient notice in my April 1st statement, there has been no tangible action to proceed with the investigation,” he said. “I am therefore convinced that the committee was merely a smokescreen. Hence, I feel vindicated to stand-down at this stage. I do so however with a heavy heart because once again, our political leaders seem to have missed another opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the safety of journalists.”