Media outlets in Liberia must not be prevented from reporting on all activities on behalf of the right to information of the public, the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) said today.
FAJ is backing its affiliate, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), in condemning the gag order imposed by the country’s criminal court on the coverage of a high level scandal in government, terming the restriction as a declaration of a state of emergency.
According to PUL, on November 29, the criminal court, under the directive of Judge Blamo Dixon, ordered media outlets “to refrain and desist from publishing and/or broadcasting directly or indirectly,” activities of Ms. Ellen Corkrum, former managing director of the Liberia Airport Authority who is required in the country to answer to corruption charges.
“We support our affiliate’s stance that this order is a state sponsored attack on press freedom and citizen’s rights to the free flow of information and curtails free expression,” said Mohamed Garba, FAJ president. “Media outlets have to provide news to the public on behalf of the right to information which is guaranteed by the law. Any restriction is a violation of the law.”
In a statement, PUL said the Liberian government is said to be seeking the extradition of Ms. Corkrum, a United States service woman, on charges of “Economic Sabotage and Theft of Property.”
Since she fled the country, reportedly with the help of state security personnel, Ms. Corkrum has been releasing in piecemeal, a series of pieces of information, including secret recordings of senior government officials containing straggling revelations.
The recordings, with the voices of Defense Minister, Brownie Samukai, and the Police Director, Chris Massaquoi, have already been released to the media via the internet, forcing Minister Samukai to apologise to the President. He described the conservation on the tape as “gossip.”
Ellen Corkrum, a Major in the US Army, who appears to have been on a mission in Liberia, has said that she will shortly release more recordings of other officials, which apparently prompted the gag order.
"We urge the government to withdraw this order, because it is unsustainable and only seeks to validate whatever Ms. Corkrum’s hypothesis were of the government,” Press Union President, Peter Quaqua said.
“It is almost impossible for the government to prevent the tapes from getting into the public because they are already stuck on the internet. To insist on the repressive order, is to amplify whatever damage the recordings seek to inflict on the government.”
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FAJ represents more than 50.000 journalists in 40 countries in Africa