By Morrison O.G. Sayon
Several Liberians have expressed grave concern over recent threat by the Director of the Executive Protection Unit (EPS) an elite guard of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that the EPS will go after the media if journalists question the integrity of Liberians.Over the weekend while celebrating World Press Freedom Day in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County, the Director of the EPS, Othello Warrick threatened that the EPS will go after the media if journalists question the integrity of Liberians.
Director Warrick threatened hundreds of journalists who assembled in Buchanan to celebrate World Press Freedom Day to be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians adding, “You have your pen, but if you incriminate the character and integrity of Liberians like myself; trust me, we will come after you.”
He stated further, “If you mistreat or infringe on the rights of someone, your rights will be infringed upon. Governance is everybody’s responsibility and any press member who surpasses his responsibility to get involved in testing our intelligence; trust me, the EPS will restrict you.”
He said the level of freedom being enjoyed by the media and Liberians in general has limitation. Warrick asserted that freedom does not go beyond the emblem of Liberia. ‘You have the right to presidential freedom but if you come into the affairs of the EPS that requires information of the President’s movement, we consider that as an infringement to the safety of the President and anyone doing that will be arrested by the Executive Protection Service.’
He furthered in his threat, ‘You are not more Liberian than the others. The EPS is to protect the Presidency, the Vice President and the first family and as indicated in the law, to protect dignitaries as directed by the President.
Among other things, we will not harass; arrest and or ensure that journalists go missing but do not allow individuals to mislead you to question the integrity of those that have earned those integrities over the years.’
‘These comments are offensive, but what we are most surprised of is that government has not been able to come out with any statement to clarify Warrick’s statement,” said Mr. Jeremiah Doe, a resident of Paynesville who spoke to this paper in a mobile interview.
Many callers on a local radio station said Director Warrick has missed the mark and therefore must retract his statement. “If he fails to retract his statement against the media, Madam Sirleaf must ensure that he is dismissed,” Peter Davies one of the callers intoned.
They expressed anger over Warrick’s statement terming same as irresponsible and an affront not only to the media but Liberians in general many of whom lost their lives to obtain the level of freedom being enjoyed. They said the peace that we are now enjoying is not the work of an individual but collective efforts on the part of every Liberian especially those who lost their precious lives,” Aaron Boakai, a classroom teacher said in strong words.
He said gone are the days when Executive Mansion guards were used against their own citizens whenever government officials or the President was criticized. “We believe this is a new political dispensation where the media as well as citizens must be allowed to speak out without being harassed or intimidated; this is totally wrong and sends out a wrong signal of the level of democracy we claim to be enjoying at this time. We call on the government to state its definite position on this matter because anything contrary to that will be resisted by all well-meaning Liberians,” Mr. Boakai averred.
Many of the citizens expressed shock and said they were taken aback by such comments coming from the President’s Chief of Security whose officers are in possession of arms who on many occasions interact with journalists most of whom are assigned at the Executive Mansion to cover activities of the President.
They said what is most shocking to is that at the time when the world was observing Press Freedom Day in every country intended to stop every form of harassment and intimidation against the media, the head of the President’s security threatened journalists something they said is very scaring and has the propensity to depict Liberia as a police state or anti-democratic country especially when Liberia is still being considered a fragile state in the sub-region.