6 May 2013

Liberia: Ellen's Guard Declares War - On Journalists

Part of the weekend's celebratory aspects of the World Press Freedom Day in Liberia caused nerve-wracking emotions when the head of the presidential guard took the podium to unleash his venom, calling some journalists "terrorists" and vowing to pursue them whenever they published articles questioning his integrity and those of other government officials.

"Be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians. Be-careful, because you have your pen and [we have our guns]. And if you incriminate the character or integrity of Liberians like myself, we would come after you," Daniel Othello Warrick, director of the Executive Protection Service (EPS), strongly threatened journalists as he spoke on the theme: 'Safe to Speak Security, Freedom of Expression in all Media,' in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, Saturday.

During his speech, what appeared to be his "private armed security" guards from the EPS surrounded the main auditorium of the Methodist School in a style reminiscent of the war days when warlords used to take the stage to address their subjects.

Though Warrick did not say how he expected journalists to write their stories, he drew a battle line between him and the journalists when he cautioned that under him as head of the President's security guards, democracy which entails the freedom of the press and expression must have a limitation.

"Democracy has limitation. We want to assure you and to register here and the rest of the Press Union that the level of freedom you have has limitation. The level of freedom you have today has limitations.

"It does not go beyond the emblem of Liberia, the President. The Protection of the President remains the sole responsibility of the EPS. When you get detail that comes into the affairs of the EPS, that requires information about presidential movements, presidential activities, we consider that as intrusion into the safety of the president. And any one who does that, the EPS has the right to arrest you without warrant.

Do not pass that border," Warrick told journalists as his guards stormed the corridors of the building.

Tension engulfed the hall when Warrick returned to the podium to reinforce his acrimonious feelings with the journalists. "Some of you, not all of you, are terrorists," he said.

There were bitter murmurs among the journalists and platform guests, some of whom braved the storm to openly express their disgust.

One journalist described Warrick's utterances as "intimidation" while others clearly stated that the press freedom being enjoyed in the country today could not be attributed to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. They said it was enshrined in the Accra peace accord that ended the country's devastating civil war and the press and successive administrations have upheld it.

Other security officials from the Ministry of National Defense (MOD) and the Liberian National Police (LNP) appeared more supportive of press freedom in the country as they expressed commitments to ensure a free environment for all journalists.

Abraham Kroma, Deputy Police Director for Operations who spoke earlier, told journalists that the theme of the occasion was 'of big interest to the LNP.'

"Freedom of expression in all media is a very powerful tool for our democracy."

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