16 February 2019

Liberia: Govt Declares Roots FM a Crime Scene - Station Off the Air Again

Monrovia — Nearly a week after armed men burglarized his radio station, Roots FM 102.7, Mr. Henry Costa, host of the highly-rated Costa Show says armed police officers have taken control of his broadcast facility and refusing to allow his staffers to enter and fuel their generator.

"We've been off the air since 3pm Liberian time and the reason we've been off the air is that the generator that supply us power has been out of fuel and when the folks responsible for refueling the generator went in to fuel, armed police officers who have control of our radio station blocked them from refueling," Mr. Costa said in a Facebook Live post Saturday.

The Talk Show host says he placed a call to the Minister of State several times Saturday seeking answers and has been appealing with them to allow them fuel the generator to continue broadcast.

"They have barricaded our entire place; they are refusing to allow us to even come close. This is a clever plan by the government. I just got off the phone with Minister of State Nathaniel McGill and they say they will not allow us to enter, they say it is a crime scene - so basically, we are shut down, that's what it means. They have barricaded our facility, we are not allowed access to our own facility, we can't be on the air. How can you have access to my place and refuse me access to my place. What sense does that make, they refusing for us to have access to our studio just to put fuel in our generator."

Mr. Costa explained that he has been unable to reach Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean who is yet to reply to several text messages seeking answers. "I've spoken to the police director, I've spoken to all of them - except Musah Dean. And McGill just told me ten minutes ago that the government will not allow us access to our own facility. You see the strategy, they're acting like they're investigating, so they've classified our facility as a crime scene."

Late Saturday, the Liberia National Police (LNP) issued a statement clarifying that it has not shut down Roots FM 102.7 FM as insinuated by its management.

The statement noted: "The LNP notes that based on standard investigative procedures, a Lone Star Communication Corporation (Lonestar Cell) transmission site on Johnson Street, in Central Monrovia where an armed robbery incident allegedly occurred has been cordoned off by officers since Friday, February 15, 2019 to prevent the tampering of evidence and in furtherance of the investigation. Let it be made categorically clear that no LNP officer has visited nor been deployed at the premises of Roots FM 102.7 as alleged by its Management."

The LNP said Lonestar Cell management, the owner of the facility where the armed robbery is alleged to have occurred, has been called in and are assisting the police with the investigation. "The LNP is pursuing additional persons of interest in connection with alleged armed robbery and assures the general public that it will release its investigative report in the soonest possible time. The public can be assured of an impartial investigation."

Following the armed attack on his station last week which saw burglars walk away with his transmitter and other broadcast equipment, Mr. Costa launched a GoFundMe campaign that raised US$20,000 in less than 24 hours.

He has been running the station on a borrowed transmitter with a short reach as he works toward replacing the stolen transmitters. "Because there are no transmitters for sale in Liberia, we managed to borrow one from someone which we will be using to broadcast until our brand-new transmitters arrive," Mr. Costa told FrontPageAfrica last Tuesday.

Mr. Costa has previously expressed frustration over the government's lack of interest in the attack on his station. "The government did nothing the last time. In fact, they are the ones that sent these people to attack us. The first attack happened a day after we exposed the shady deal to bring in 300 fishing boats from Senegal to deplete our fish stocks as they did theirs. We will not stop talking. They cannot win."

Both the government's chief spokesman, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe and the Chair of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change Mulbah Morlu have condemn the attacks while calling for an investigation into the matter.

"The government reiterates its commitment to free speech and freedom of the press, which President George M. Weah again affirmed during his meeting in December with media managers," Minister Nagbe said. "This disturbing act, which comes on the heels of the historic passage by the Liberian Senate of the K. Abdullai Kamara's bill to decriminalize speech offenses, has no place in the new Liberia. The station's license was only recently renewed by the authorities, after it was suspended by the previous administration, with a commitment to create a secured environment for it and all others to operate. Hence, it's disconcerting that some will opt to blemish the government's democratic credentials by prematurely drawing attribution to it."

Mr. Morlu, for his part, frowned on allegations of 'Vandalism against Roots FM 102.7' and added his voice in condemning the act while urging the Ministry of Justice to properly investigate the incident.

Supporters of Mr. Costa are however baffled that the government took nearly a week to launch a probe after the alleged crime scene have been contaminated as Mr. Costa and his team work to return to station to full operation.

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