Following the arrest and detention of New Democrat newspaper’s senior editor, Festus Poquie, for more than four hours at police headquarters yesterday, the Liberia National Police (LNP) has released him.
Journalist Poquie was arrested for publishing ‘a reckless and libelously unbalanced story against President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea in its Tuesday, September 13, 2016, edition without verifying as it was reported by British national, Thomas Burrows, the original author of the story,’ according to the Ministry of Information (MICAT).
Human rights lawyer, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, who spoke to journalists at the PUL headquarters on Clay Street yesterday immediately called on the government to release Poquie.
In his statement yesterday, Cllr. Gongloe noted that “As a lawyer, I go to court to defend journalists most often, but my frequency of the representation in court is not yielding the type of results that I want.”
Cllr. Gongloe said his appeal for journalists is to deter government from arresting them.
“I just can’t understand what happened today, that a journalists working for a newspaper writes a story about a dictatorial leader in another African country and our government gets angry and arrests that journalist.
“I can’t understand. I don’t think that I need to go to court to defend that journalist’s rights in terms of what the government has done; and that I am surprised that our President, a democratically elected leader, is befriending a very dictatorial leader in Africa. That is not right, and it shows that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf approved of what is happening in that country. It speaks volumes and that means we should all be alert and act out of the box,” said Cllr. Gongloe.
He recalled that President Sirleaf signed an important legislation meant to protect the press, and was explicit in her pronouncement about upholding the rights of Liberian journalists who have always faced persecution from past Liberian governments, when she said, “Today I will affix my signature on behalf of the Government and the people of Liberia to the Table Mountain Declaration to fulfill a pledge regarding our government’s acceding to the effort toward repealing criminal defamation laws on our statutes in order to underscore the message, loud and clear, that we are committed to advancing free press and free expression, not just in Liberia but to use our leadership role to promote it on the entire continent of Africa.”
K. Abdullai Kamara, President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), in his reaction said “it was quite unfortunate that the Ellen led-government will descend on others by violating their rights to due process of law, particularly journalists.”
However, a statement issued by the Ministry of Information (MICAT) has called on the paper to immediately retract the story and has formally communicated with the PUL demanding that it take strong punitive sanctions against the New Democrat in keeping with the PUL’s own Code of Ethics, ‘which abhors such unprofessional reporting.’
According to MICAT, “government recognizes the freedom of all, including the media, to express themselves and offer genuine criticism against any African leader,” but added that it will “resist and reject news reports based upon deliberate falsehood engineered by the vestiges of neo-colonialist racists with the tendency of unfairly demonizing African leaders.”