Scores of police officers Thursday, August 14, barricaded the National Chronicle newspaper offices on Carey Street in pursuit of the paper’s managing editor, Philipbert Browne.
Mr. Browne is being pursued for several articles the paper has been running of late, particularly relative to the alleged formation of an interim government to unseat President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Without prior notice, sources close to the paper explained that officers of the Police Support Unit (PSU) placed a blockade at the entrance of the media house, warning users to “keep off or remain in their respective positions until the police operation is over.”
According to an eye witness, police arrived on Carey Street opposite the Civil Service Agency around 6:15 p.m. demanding access to the paper’s offices, but were denied.
“We saw the police moving in towards the newspaper shouting, ‘no one should move in there!’ They went up the stairs attempting to break into the building but could not because the newspaper workers had locked their iron gate from inside upon receiving the news of the police operation.
“The police attempted shooting teargas from the onset but I don’t know as to whether that was done. We heard them (police) hitting the paper’s iron gate, a situation that created heavy noise and panic in the minds of many around the area,” an eyewitness, who did not give his name, asserted.
One police truck, two pickups, and dozens of police officers blocked both entrances of the street, forcing a gathering of a huge crowd in support of the paper’s publisher, whose publications are often harshly critical of the government.
It is not clear as to whether police entered the building or not, but Browne was seen walking out after several minutes of engagement with police authorities by media executives including the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Reporters Association of Liberia (RAL) and other journalists who had gathered to show solidarity.
According to Saye Messah, a reporter at The Chronicle, police broke into their offices with weapons and demanded that all employees turn in their laptops and other devices.
“We didn’t come to harm you people. We only came to close down the paper; and if you corporate, no one will harm you people,” Saye quoted police as having said.
During that period, he explained, Browne and other employees were allowed to walk out of their office based on the intervention of Montserrado County Representative Solomon George.
“We came out and walked towards the Heritage Newspaper offices up on Carey and Broad Streets. As we were walking, the police followed us and shot teargas canisters amongst us. We were terrified and fought for survival. Unfortunately, two of our colleagues Emmanuel Messah, editor, and Emmanuel Logan, web designer, were arrested and taken to an unknown destination. As we speak, we don’t know their whereabouts.”
The incident created panic among many citizens in central Monrovia forcing very early exits from the streets, which had already become virtually empty since President Sirleaf declared the State of Emergency last week Wednesday.
Rumors spread fast across the city that guns were being fired in the city. This situation caused serious fear in the minds of citizens already panicking from the spread of the deadly Ebola virus backed by the “State of Emergency” imposed by President Sirleaf.
Meanwhile, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) late last night said it was disappointed and disgusted by the forceful and illegal closure of the National Chronicle Newspaper and the arrest of several staff of the paper including News Editor Emmanuel Mensah and IT Officer Emmanuel Logan, and the manhandling of Philibert S. Browne.
“The Press Union sees these actions as a further expression of intolerance and an unwarranted attack on the free press, and calls upon President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to immediately denounce this action, release the staff and reopen the National Chronicle,” the PUL said its statement.
The Union’s president, Abdullai Kamara, said this action, which is yet to be explained from the highest level of the Liberia National Police, “strengthens the distrust between the government and the media, undermines the rule of law and lays to waste the fruitful collaboration that has existed in the fight against the ebola virus.
The Union is calling all of its members to a mass emergency meeting at 12 noon today, Friday, August 15, at its headquarters on Clay Street to chart further options.