IFJ Calls for Safety Guarantees As Journalists Face Terror Threat in Liberia

Journalists are facing a reign of terror in Liberia says the International Federation of Journalists following recent rebel incursions into the capital Monrovia.

Following the retreat by rebel forces of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy group terror has descended on the city, with attacks involving government forces. The IFJ says more than 25 journalists have been displaced by the fighting.

Journalist Lyndon Ponnie narrowly escaped death when armed men attacked his home on 12 June 2003 and robbed him of all possessions. He is now forced to spend nights at his office in central Monrovia. The whereabouts of his family are unknown. Ponnie is former editor of The Concord Times newspaper and has suffered harassment and death threats for reporting critical of the government of President Charles Taylor. In 1999 he published a series of articles alleging corruption in the government. In 2000 the paper was banned.

Two investigative reporters of the independent newspaper The News, Bobby Tapson and Bill Jarkloh, as well as Joe Watson of the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System, were abducted on 12 June by LURD rebels. They were released almost one week later.

On 5 June, Stanley McGill, another reporter with The News, is in hiding after being beaten up by armed men who confiscated his laptop. On 27 May he was attacked by three men wearing uniforms of the presidential elite guard, the Anti Terrorist Unit. The homes of journalists Philip Moore, editor-in-chief of Independent newspaper, Charles Asumana, of Inquirer newspaper, and Kaba Williams have been looted and set ablaze.

“This is a catalogue of hate and terror that is intolerable,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The Liberian government has ratified the Geneva Conventions and must protect the rights of journalists and innocent civilians caught in the fighting.” Since July 2002, the Media Foundation for West Africa claims there have been 135 cases of press-freedom and human rights violations by the government in Liberia.

Earlier this month, the government shut down six amateur FM radio stations. The National Communication Bureau said that the motives and scope of operations of these stations were not clear to the government.

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries