The IFJ, the world's largest journalists' group, today called for a wave of international protest to secure the release of four Liberian journalists arrested and charged with espionage, charges which the IFJ says are "blatantly false and an excuse for a wholesale assault on press freedom."
Police in Monrovia on Thursday last week arrested four journalists from the Liberian daily News and charged them with spying apparently in reprisal for a story that challenged government spending on helicopter repairs, Christmas cards, and souvenirs.
"It is an outrage that the Liberian government, picks up journalists and charges them with capital offences and refuses them bail because they have reported government spending of US$50,000 for helicopter repairs and US$20,000-odd for Christmas cards and souvenirs," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
"It is perfectly legitimate for journalists to challenge the rationale behind such expenditures at a time when Liberia's social services are on the verge of collapse and civil servants have gone unpaid for months," said the IFJ. "This is unacceptable bullying of journalists and should be repudiated around the world."
Police went to the newspaper's offices on February 21 and arrested News reporter Bobby Tapson. Later that day, they arrested managing editor Joseph Bartuah, editor-in-chief Abdullah Dukuly, and news editor Jerome Dalieh.
Although lawyers for the journalists filed new bail requests with the City Court, a hearing was put off until Monday. The journalists will have to spend the weekend in jail, according to local sources.
Press freedom groups say Liberia is currently one of Africa's worst press freedom offenders. Last August, four journalists from Britain's Channel 4 television network were charged with espionage while trying to film a documentary in Liberia, for which they had obtained permission from Liberian authorities. All four were subsequently released, after the incident attracted international press coverage and condemnation from human rights organizations worldwide.