The United States Department of State (U.S. State Department) has released its human rights report for 2019, highlighting physical and emotional agonies Liberian journalists are undergoing in the George Weah Administration.
President George Weah, upon taking over in 2018 set a high public impression by decriminalizing criminal libel and slander law, which brought about the Kamara A. Kamara Act of Press Freedom. Nevertheless, the full realization to give journalists and media houses the opportunity to perform their tasks remains the predicament.
According to the report, there were some arbitrary arrests of journalists in the year under review, with Jefferson Krua, owner of the online Bush Chicken, highlighted as being punched during arrest. In spite of following the law to file a complaint, Krua’s complaint is yet to be given attention since last year.
The court has also been very harsh on journalists according to the report. On this, the report says, journalists are fined exorbitantly beyond imagination; referencing the case of New Dawn Publishing Manager Othello Garblah’s encounter with Judge Peter Gbeneweleh when he (Garblah) was summoned for writing an article speculating that the court was in the process of exonerating defendants in the Sable Mining case.
The report further notes that law enforcement officers occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners because of their political opinion and reporting, especially those that criticize government officials. It also states that government officials harassed media members of political reasons, pointing out the case of Patrick Honnah’s Punch FM case that is yet to yield fruition despite court’s ruling that he has the right to operate his radio station.
The report also highlighted how the frequency of Roots FM of talk show host Henry Costa was jammed from February to August of last year, and on October 10 vandalized with the equipment and all other materials taken away by the government through the instrumentality of Syrenius Cephas.
While slander and libel have been decriminalized by the Weah Administration, there seems to be less care for abiding by this law. It is recorded in the report that Minister of State Nathaniel McGill filed US$500,000 defamation suit against Roots FM and the hosts, Henry Costa and Fidel Saydee for free speech.
Press freedom and free speech were also trampled upon on June 7, 2019 during the mass citizen protest when Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange, two leading internet service providers in Liberia, blocked access to social media, perhaps on orders from the government.
Other developments not captured in the report are the recent encounters some journalists had with the Executive Protection Service (EPS) and the Liberia National Police (LNP). Journalist Zenu Miller reported that while at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports during the grand final of the National County Sports Meet, he was attacked the EPS, and since that encounter he became sick and died three weeks after the encounter. There was also another encounter that involved a reporter working with Frontpage Africa, who was manhandled by the police alleged on orders “from higher up”.
Just yesterday, March 11, a report with an image of journalist James Kadii appeared on social media indicating that he was beaten by a police officer.
With the prevailing situation, the US State Department’s report said many journalists have adopted self-censorship for fear of attack while media houses themselves are avoiding being critical in order not to lose advertisements from government. Journalists and media houses are also reported of charging money to publish articles or host people on talk show.