The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has supported journalists in Liberia who have issued a media blackout, by printing black front pages after a government official was accused of threatening them.
Radio and TV stations are also protesting against the government by suspending broadcasts for two hours daily beginning today Friday, 10 May, 2013.
According to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), an IFJ affiliate, Mr. Othello Warrick the Director of the Executive Protection Service (EPS) in Liberia on 3 May, during the World Press Freedom Day celebration, made disparaging and threatening remarks against journalists, describing media personnel as terrorists and threatened to move on them, if they question the integrity of the President of Liberia, Helen Johnson Sirleaf. “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 will come after you,” Warrick is reported to have said.
“We strongly condemn this kind of attitude and untamed utterance. This is an open and serious threat against the media and journalists and we are particularly shocked because they come from senior security personnel. We will hold the Executive Protection Service responsible for any form of assault or attacks against journalists which has a direct relation to the statement made by Warrick. We support our colleagues in Liberia and stand in solidarity with them,” Gabriel Baglo IFJ Africa Director said.
The IFJ, like its affiliate the PUL, is outraged and alarmed by these wild comments. They have further brought to question the government’s commitment to upholding press freedom, democracy and the rule of law. PUL sees these comments as risky and troubling. “We fear that the lack of response to such a condescending and threatening statement by a senior security functionary points to approval by the President and threatens freedom of expression, highlighting impunity against the media,” Peter Quaqua PUL’s President stated.
As journalists feel unsafe in the presence of presidential guards who threaten their lives, correspondents assigned by media houses to cover the presidency are being withdrawn. In addition to this a news blackout imposed on the Liberian presidency until there can express an established guarantee for the freedom and safety of journalists across the country and an end to media impunity.
The IFJ said it supports PUL which has taken the measures in response to these unwarranted threats and calls on the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to dispel and disassociate itself with these threats in the interest of democracy, good governance and the rule of law.
The IFJ said such threats have no place in an established democracy. “We therefore re-echo our call on government to dialogue with the media in order to create the enabling environment for the media to flourish,” Baglo added.
In a related development, two Liberian media executives and a number of Liberian journalists based in the United States have taken strong exception to open threats against members of the media in Liberia by the Director of the Executive Protection Service (EPS) at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, Mr. Othello Warrick.
The EPS provides personal security protection for the office of the Liberian President.
At a recent program marking the annual observance of World Press Freedom Day in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County on May 3, 2013, Director Warrick reportedly described media personnel as “terrorists” and threatened to move on them, if they question the integrity of the President of Liberia.
In a press statement issued late on Thursday, May 9, 2013, the two former Presidents of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Messrs Isaac Bantu and Emmanuel Abalo and other Liberian media professionals in the U.S. said they observe the propensity of such naked and unwarranted threats to compromise the personal well-being and safety of journalists and the climate of a vibrant media plurality in the country.
“The very fact that Mr. Warrick used the media to threaten practitioners is a gross abuse of security powers of the state of Liberia. As a public official, Mr. Warrick should be reminded of his duty to be responsible and promote respect for the rule of law,” the statement said.
The Liberian media executives and other media professionals advised the Director of the Presidential, guard Mr. Warrick to fully utilize the instruments of the Liberian legal system at all times to seek relief for any reputational injury or damage instead of resorting to gangster-style threats against the press.
“The current Liberian Administration has a moral and Constitutional duty to protect its citizens including media practitioners and must distance itself from threats made by its appointees against members of the press,” Bantu and Abalo averred.
“We support the choice of protest being undertaken by the Press Union of Liberia and stand with the international media community in condemning Mr. Warrick’s utterances,” the statement further said.