By Hannah N. Geterminah and Willam Q. Harmon
The plenary of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has resolved to stage a peaceful protest over the constant manhandling of journalists by state security forces, especially the Liberia National Police (LNP) and members of the elite presidential guard, the Executive Protection Service (EPS). The protest is expected to take place on Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Monrovia.
The plenary, the highest decision-making body of the PUL, unanimously reached the decision on March 9, 2020, at a mass meeting presided over by the Union’s president, Charles B. Coffey, at its headquarters in Monrovia to protest against the government.
PUL president Coffey said that all journalists will gather this Thursday to present a petition to President Weah as a way of drawing his attention to the series of attacks perpetrated against journalists by state security officers.
Mr. Coffey said copies of the petition will also be presented to relevant institutions, including the Legislature, Executive Mansion, United States Embassy, European Union, United Nations, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Embassy of the United Kingdom, to inform them about the attacks against Liberian journalists.
The mass meeting that was attended by over a hundred members including government public relations officers (PROs) unanimously agreed on a four-count resolution to address the increasing wave of attacks against journalists in Liberia.
Individual reporters at the mass meeting were allowed to give their views and a way forward to end the constant attacks against professional journalists during the discharge of their duties. Four suggestions were highlighted out of the many views and opinions expressed by the media practitioners.
The union’s resolutions include: a peaceful assembly, that was unanimously agreed upon to call the attention of government and the international community to the unabated wave of attacks against Journalists in Liberia; prepare a legal team and investigators for immediate investigation and legal actions against perpetrators of brutality against journalists and a security-media dialogue to end brutalization of journalists and media workers.
The Union members also mandated the leadership to allow the EPS to continue its ongoing investigation on the brutality meted against the media.
The members of the Union further raised an alarm over the continued brutality, incarceration and intimidation of Journalists.
PUL is, therefore, calling on all Journalists to assemble at its headquarters on Thursday, March 12, 2020 beginning at 8 am in their White T-Shirts and Blue Jeans for the peaceful assembly.
In reaction to the decision of the PUL’s plenary, the president of the Reporters Association of Liberia, Madam Cecelia Clarke, said that the association collectively embraces the planned action.
“We at the RAL fully support the decision reached by the membership of the PUL to peacefully petition the government because that is the only language they seem to understand,” she said.
She disclosed that all the victims of the security officers’ brutalities are all members of the RAL and as such the group is mobilizing its members to ensure that they show up in their numbers on the day of the protest.
“I want to call on all reporters across Liberia to gather in their numbers to send a message to the world that Liberia is not a safe place for journalists,” the RAL president said.
Madam Clarke disclosed that the RAL has catalogued about eight incidences of violence against members of the media—seven of which were perpetrated by LNP officers and the other one by EPS agents.
The PUL has received over seven cases of state security attacks against journalists between January and March 2020.
Meanwhile, the last time the PUL took any such strong decision against the Liberian government was in 2013 when it placed a block-out on the presidency of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
That decision was precipitated by Madam Sirleaf’s chief of Security Othello Daniel Warrick when he branded journalists as “terrorists” and threatened to face-off with them in the performance of his duties as a chief presidential guard.
In a related development, the Executive Protection Service (EPS) has admitted to overacting against journalist Kolako Salim following a recent protest on the grounds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In a communication addressed to the Press Union of Liberia Monday, the EPS said its agent overreacted against the journalist during the protest and deeply regrets the situation. The EPS said it has taken stock of the situation and will apply the appropriate disciplinary measures against the officer who allegedly mar-handle the journalist.