The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation has vigorously condemned the arrest and detention of five employees of the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting Corporation (LBC).
Police arrested three journalists - Bockarie Musa, Kota Dogba and Dennis Samukai - a technician and a guard for alleged sabotage at the weekend following a strike by 160 LBC workers who have demanded to be paid over salary arrears stretching back over 13 months. The IFJ fears for the safety of the arrested colleagues following claims by its affiliate the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) of floggings by the security forces.
The government of President Charles Taylor dismissed the five detained employees and barred another 12 from entering the station. None of them are able to receive salary cheques, which are now being disbursed at the station.
"This is victimization of the worst kind," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "Strikers who have led the action that forced the government's hand are being persecuted over what is scandalous mismanagement."
The IFJ says the LBC has been in a deplorable state since President Charles Taylor came to power in 1997. Equipment is obsolete and ill maintained, workers are not paid and the station's frequency cannot go beyond ten miles of the capital, Monrovia. Ironically, President Taylor has established a private media empire equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, and an FM frequency of the LBC, seized during the civil war. Taylor's Liberia Communication Network (LCN), which broadcasts both on short wave, and FM, has nation-wide coverage; and the employees are relatively well paid.
"We want to see the immediate release of our colleagues," said Aidan White, "and we also demand that the government settles salary arrears and improves working conditions."
The IFJ and the PUL say the detention of the accused has gone beyond the statutory period of 48 hours and violates the Liberian constitution. The PUL commented, "These actions on the part of the security forces are an attempt to intimidate and silence the workers from demanding their legitimate benefits."