Open letter to the Minister of Justice, Cllr. F. Musah Dean
Dear Minister Dean,
I present professional greetings and write to bring to your attention two suspicious incidents which I perceive to be as threats to the Daily Observer as an independent media institution operating in Liberia. In a nutshell: We have reason to believe that we are being followed and targeted.
The following is a narration of what members of the Daily Observer staff observed and experienced between the hours of 10 p.m. on Thursday, October 8 and 3 a.m. on Friday October 9, 2020.
As we concluded the production for our Friday, October 9, 2020 edition, I had a strong urge that, though I was driving myself home that night and the office vehicle was taking the rest of the staff, we should all leave the office together.
When we left, the office vehicle escorted me to my gate and then proceeded to drop other staff members, one of who lives in central Monrovia. That was around 2:30 a.m. Friday morning.
When the office car reached central Monrovia on the early morning of Friday, October 9, 2020 at about 3 a.m., another staff member was being dropped off. While disembarking from the right side of our vehicle, the staffer and the driver saw a grey Nissan Pathfinder, all glasses up, tinted, without license plate slowed down near our vehicle on the opposite side of the street, on Crown Hill, for some seconds. The staffer closed the car door and looked to see what was going on and, apparently, when the occupants of the Pathfinder realized they had been noticed, they pulled off.
After our driver dropped our staffer and made sure the staffer was safely indoors, he said he saw the pathfinder parked further ahead near the South Sahara bar, opposite the YMCA on Broad street and he decided to time them because he did not want to get in front of them again. So the Pathfinder pulled off, went down to the corner of Broad and Johnson streets and stopped there again, but did not cross. As our vehicle proceeded down crown hill toward the corner of Broad and Johnson, the Pathfinder once again pulled off straight in the direction of the Finance Ministry.
At the corner of Broad and Johnson, our driver turned right and proceeded toward Vai Town. From then on, he did not see the Pathfinder again.
According to our driver, he first noticed the Pathfinder tailing our vehicle from around the Orange Liberia headquarters on Capitol By-pass. According to him, they kept a steady distance but it was only when they stopped to drop off our staffer, that he found them suspicious. Both the driver and the staffer observed that the Pathfinder had NO LICENSE PLATE.
Because of low visibility and potential danger of engaging the suspicious vehicle at that time of the night, it was difficult to tell the color of the vehicle.
As I shared this incident with a few of our reporters in the office on Friday afternoon, October 9, one of them spoke up and explained that, a few hours before the tailing incident, at about 10 p.m. on Thursday, October 8, he received a phone call from a private number. The person on the other end of the call was a man who did not identify himself, and who called to say: “I know you very well, you are [called our reporter’s full name] right?” The reporter responded, “Yes.”
The man continued: “You work for Daily Observer. You guys are doing a good job. Keep it up. Keep it up.” After that, the man hung up the phone.
Our reporter said he felt very disturbed by the phone call because, to him, the man’s words did not sound like a compliment, though it was structured that way, but sounded more of a sarcastic statement and a threat.
While we cannot prove anymore than we have already narrated here, what we have seen, heard or experienced, on the heels of the three mysterious deaths of LRA personnel and the death of the Internal Audit Agency Director barely 24 hours after our own experience, plus numerous other incidents of politically motivated violence, our experience bears the weight of PROBABLE CAUSE. Legally, we have valid reason to believe that our suspicions may be true and cannot and must not be dismissed as mere assumptions.
Mr. Minister, I am sharing this information with you, the head of the nation’s Joint Security, for your attention and action. I have intentionally left the names of my staff out of this open letter, because of concerns for their safety. If you need further information, I will be happy to be the conduit for any further questions.
While we yet refrain from assuming that these suspicious acts upon us were perpetrated by actors loyal to this government, we would be remiss not to state here that mercenaries — former combatants named in the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report — have infiltrated the George Weah administration through the security sector. We know some of them work with the NSA and we have captured some on camera in action, assisting the Liberia National Police. We have mentioned this in many of our articles and editorials, so what I am saying here is not new.
At the Daily Observer, our job is to reveal the truth through the stories and articles that we publish. Where our reports are found to be erroneous, we have not been too proud or obstinate to issue a correction or retraction, along with an apology. We have no enemies in or out of government. Yet, in our nearly 40-year history we are no strangers to such suspicously hostile encounters, up to and including broad-day harassment and jail.
Nevertheless, as an institution and God being our helper, we shall not bend from speaking the truth, while remaining respectful to the incumbent government of this noble Republic.
Bai Sama G. Best
Liberian Observer Corporation
CC: Press Union of Liberia
Assorted Diplomatic Missions
International Press Institute
Committee to Protect Journalists