5 July 2006

Liberia: Committee to Probe Attacks On Journalists

press release

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appointed a committee to investigate a recent spate of attacks on journalists who have been probing the country's security services, reports the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP).

The committee will include representatives of civil society and independent media, including Liberia Democracy Watch and Talking Drum Studio. It is expected to report back to the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs by 10 July 2006.

Since May, there have been at least three incidents in which Special Security Service agents have harassed or assaulted journalists, note CEMESP and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

On 13 June, four journalists were briefly detained at the Executive Mansion for attempting to confirm reports of the alleged dismissal of five senior SSS personnel. The journalists were Abas Dulleh of the "New Democrat" newspaper, Patrick Honnah of Truth FM radio, Olando Zeongar of "Heritage" newspaper and Jallah Grayfield of the Catholic-run Radio Veritas.

The SSS said the journalists were detained because they took pictures of a notice board that contained a memorandum about the dismissal. President Sirleaf's office later apologised for the incident.

In another incident, several journalists, including Grayfield, were roughed up in a scuffle with SSS agents on 8 June at Liberia's International Airport, CEMESP reported. The journalists had been denied permission to interview President Sirleaf upon her arrival from a visit to Switzerland. Grayfield was injured in the neck and had his mobile phone confiscated.

On 24 May, Radio Veritas reporter George D. Watkins was assaulted by SSS agents while reporting on the SSS's alleged enlisting of a former rebel commander, CPJ said. Watkins was investigating reports that a former commander from Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) had been given an SSS post.

LURD was one of a coalition of rebel groups credited with ousting former president Charles Taylor in August 2003. Several former LURD fighters were integrated into the new government and security forces.

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