The former President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and member of the Special Committee instituted by President George M. Weah to investigate state security attacks on journalists has distanced himself from being part of any decision leading to the suspension of the investigation since it was announced on March 18, 2020.
In a statement expressing his shock over the decision to suspend the investigation, the former PUL President, Peter Quaqua said since the announcement constituting the committee was made by the President of Liberia, there has been no occasion on which they have met as committee members despite many calls he had made to the head of the committee, Rev. Dr. Laurence K. Bropleh, to acquire information about when they should meet.
“The Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Laurence Bropleh, will admit that I reached out to him by phone on 30 March, when there was dead silence following the announcement of the committee, to find out what was going on. And he explained to me that he hadn’t gotten in touch because there were internal discussions in government in the wake of the Coronavirus to make some adjustments in the tenure of the committee before calling members,” Mr. Quaqua said.
In a long Facebook post, Mr. Quaqua said he accepted Dr. Bropleh’s explanation in good faith but was amazed to have heard Chairman Bropleh being quoted in the news by Deputy Press Secretary, Smith Toby on Tuesday, 31 March as saying the Committee had suspended the investigation to resume on April 15 because of safety concerns over the coronavirus.
Mr. Quaqua said even if the committee ever met, Deputy Press Secretary, Smith M. Toby would not have been the spokesperson of the committee.
“President Weah recently set up this committee to probe a petition presented to the government by members of the PUL on March 12, 2020, on allegations of harassment and violence meted out against journalists by state security apparatus,” said Mr. Quaqua. “Isn’t it weird that the committee would be resuming a process that hasn’t started in the first place? I really shouldn’t be doing this, but I am pushed to do so in the interest of the credibility of the committee that I am supposed to be a part of,” the former PUL president Quaqua said.
As a passionate journalist, former PUL President and President of the West African Journalist Association (WAJA), Mr. Quaqua said he graciously accepted the challenge to help the government look into some of the unresolved attacks on the press with the hope of collectively breaking the perennial impunity for crimes against journalists in Liberia and now needed to sound out the initial missteps.
“Without dismissing the safety concerns raised by the Chairman, I believe the size of the committee is not large to warrant a suspension of the probe. I, therefore, suggest that the committee meets at once to determine the risk factors and, if possible, draw up a methodology for the hearings,” Mr. Quaqua said.
He continued: “Arguably, these same journalists have even been risking their lives every time they showed up at the Ministries of Information or Health to provide coverage for the government’s update on the situation of the virus in Liberia. I believe the risks they are taking in these trying times to keep the population informed is much higher than any risk the committee members will take to give them some redress for the pains they suffered at the hands of their attackers. No need for further delays; let’s get the investigation underway.”
Mr. Quaqua added that service to journalists and journalism is a life-long commitment he would do anything, any day, in the cause of our trade and the greater good of the society.
On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, two former leaders of the PUL condemned the growing wave of violence against journalists in Liberia and called on President Weah to reconstitute the five-member media investigation committee headed by Dr. Bropleh, former Minister of Information and now advisor to President Weah.
According to a press statement from the United States, the former PUL leaders, Messrs Isaac D.E. Bantu and Gabriel I.H. Williams called for Dr. Bropleh to be replaced as head of the investigation committee because he lacks the credibility and public confidence to preside over a transparent investigation.
Mr. Bantu served as President of the PUL during the final years of the brutal Samuel Doe regime to the early period of the Liberian civil war, while Mr. Williams, also served as Secretary-General and acting President during the same era, which was also the beginning of Charles Taylor’s reign of terror.
In the joint press statement, the former PUL leaders cited three reasons why the Reverend Dr. Bropleh is not deemed credible to head the media investigation committee:
The Reverend Dr. Bropleh currently serves as Special Envoy and Advisor to President Weah. Putting a government functionary in charge of such a critical investigation, especially someone who works in the office of the President clearly undermines the integrity of the process in the eyes of the public.
In 2010, the Reverend Dr. Bropleh was forced to resign as Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism in the wake of a major financial scandal after a government audit report found him culpable of economic crimes, for which he was forwarded to court for prosecution. Even though the judge presiding over the case – who was accused of sympathy towards the defendant – dismissed the case because state prosecutors reported to court late, an appeal was taken to the Supreme Court of Liberia. We have not found any evidence or report that the Supreme Court has adjudicated the said case.
In 2007, the Reverend Dr. Bropleh, in his capacity as Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism, instituted extrajudicial actions against the media when he arbitrarily shut the Independent newspaper without due process of law after the paper published pornographic photos.