9 May 2013

Liberia: Boiling With Rage - Journalists Meet Over Presidential Guard's Venom

Photo: IRIN
Liberians scan a newspaper (file photo).

Monkey can never whiten its black palm, so the saying goes in Liberia. Juxtaposed to the country's political culture, this maxim can be rephrased as, "Liberian ruling class can hardly leave behind its ingrained tendency of ruthless loath for critical voice." And the maxim is resonating not only in Government's heavy-handed response to censures on its deportment but also in the callous treatment of perceived opponents by the security forces. These attitudes have come a long way from over a century of serial despotic rules and have caught up with the Sirleaf administration widely assumed to be the most rights-conscious regime in recent memory. Not only has the regime and its security apparatuses left bruises on activists and journalists, they also have become nearly notorious in their persistent threat to delve lethal blows on non-conformists. The recent incident flagged up in the statements of the head of the Executive Protection Service (EPS), which some pundits consider President Sirleaf's version of Taylor's ATU and Doe's SATU.  The comments of the EPS boss have put Liberian journalists on edge, fuming with rage and militancy, thus prompting a meeting today on the matter. The Analyst reports.

Liberia's journalist association, the Press Union of Liberia, has sent out a trumpet call to all its members. The general membership meeting scheduled today is reportedly arranged to allow all journalists discuss President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's security chief's life threatening and anti speech statement directed towards journalists on World Press Freedom Day.

At the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day on May 3 in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County, one of the panelists invited to discuss relationship between the media and government security was President Sirleaf's chief body guard, EPS director Daniel Othello Warrick.

The occasion was held under the theme, "Safe to Speak Security, Freedom of Expression in all Media."

Warrick's official statement when the microphone was turned over to him was studded by threats and intimidation of journalists.

"Be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians. Be careful because you have your pen and we have our guns," Warrick said leaving the audience to wonder whence comes the provocation triggering his comments.

Then he continued: "If you incriminate the character or integrity of Liberians like myself, we would come after you. 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.

Warrick further asserted, with boos from the audience: "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 anyone does that the EPS has the right to arrest you without warrant. Do not pass that border."

Amid the murmurs and boos, Warrick yelled on the top of his voice, saying: "Some of you, not all of you, are terrorists.

Warrick's comments have generated reactions from many quarters, with media practitioners divided on what the response of journalists should be. Others are calling for a news blackout on the office of the president since it has not said anything about the Warrick statement, and others are recommending a lawsuit.

But a PUL release said the meeting is expected to generate a decisive and collection response to the venom released by the Director of the Executive Protection Service, Mr. Othello Warrick on the media.

While urging journalists to remain stead fast in the discharge of their trade, PUL President Quaqua says the Liberian media needs some solidarity action that will send a clear message to government to end impunity against the media.

The meeting will take place at the Union's headquarters on Clay Street in Monrovia, beginning at 12 noon.

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