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Expression

Mid-term elections: journalists assaulted, threatened

Prior to, during and after the Senate elections, which took place on 8th December 2020, several journalists were subjected to assaults, harassment and threats. The mid-term elections, to elect 15 senators, took place in Liberia together with a referendum on eight proposed constitutional changes, including legalising dual citizenship and shortening the terms of presidents and lawmakers. The referendum has been subject to controversy as critics argue that changing the constitution could open the way for President Weah to run for terms beyond the constitutional two-term limit.

Incidents documented by press freedom organisations - the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and Reporters without Borders (RSF) include: 

  • On 30th November 2020, three supporters of candidate Thomas P. Fallah of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) forcefully entered the premises of radio station Truth FM and attempted to stop an interview that they believed would be critical of the senatorial candidate. Security officers working for Truth FM were able to stop the men. 
  • On 4th December 2020, anonymous individuals called the Kakata-based radio station Classic FM threatening that 'they would regret it' if the radio station didn't stop covering CDC events. According to the radio manager, who spoke with CPJ, journalists avoided certain election-related events after the incident. 
  • On the day of the elections, 8th December, journalist and programme director for United Methodist Radio Shammah Dorbor was punched by officials of the National Elections Commission (NEC) after they saw the journalist was covering them beating and intimidating voters who were not wearing masks. 
  • On the same day, Front Page Africa journalist Edwin Genoway Junior was chased by a group of men at a polling station in Sinkor. 
  • Christopher Kumeh and Emmmanuel Sinyoung Koffa, of Voice of Grand Kru and Ahteenah Radio respectively, were recording individuals fighting over the electoral results at a voting collation centre in Barclayville on 13th December 2020 when they were attacked by a group of people who beat Kumeh with sticks until police officers intervened. The journalists' phones and recorders were stolen. 
  • Front Page Africa journalist Obediah Johnson was chased by a group of individuals after they noticed the journalist was filming them boarding one of the buses transporting voters from the Monrovia district of Brewerville to another area, organised by candidates of the senatorial elections. The group reportedly attempted to attack the journalist. 
  • On 14th December 2020, Local Voices Liberia journalist Henry Bobo Gboluma was physically assaulted and threatened by two supporters of senatorial candidate Botoe Kanneh in Normor, Gbarpolu county, after the journalist took pictures of the two individuals taking ballot papers from election officials. 

Journalists assaulted, subjected to threats

Sports journalist and founder of Fortune TV Liberia Julius Nimely Konton was physically assaulted by two officers of the Police Emergency Response Unit on 24th January 2021 when he tried to enter the Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium in Paynesville, Monrovia, to cover the quarterfinals of the National County Sports Meet (NCSM). The incident was condemned by the Sports Writers' Association of Liberia (SWAL).

Spoon FM journalist Gloria Tamba was subjected to threats issued by unidentified individuals after she covered protests at the St. Moses Funeral Parlour in the township of Gardnersville calling for an investigation into the disappearance of three men, who were recently hired by the owner of the funeral parlour. According to CPJ, who spoke with the journalist, two unidentified individuals drove up to Tamba on 22nd October 2020 in Paynesville, showed her a picture of herself and warned her that 'she would disappear' if she continued covering the protests. Tamba's neighbours also alerted Tamba that two men were looking for the journalist, claiming that they wanted Tamba to write a report for them. Tamba feared for her life and went into hiding as a result. 

Press freedom organisation Reporters without Borders (RSF) recorded three incidents of physical assault and six cases of intimidation and death threats against journalists between the start of October and mid December 2020. The group said that at least nine journalists had received death threats, including talk show host T-Max Jlateh of Sky FM who hosts the show '50-50'. Assane Diagne of RSF commented

"Assaults, intimidation and death threats: such violations of press freedom have been growing to general indifference since George Weah took office in 2018. The decriminalisation of press offences is a major step forward, but it is not acceptable that journalists should continue to be verbally or physically abused in this way."

Ministry of Information threatens radio station over broadcasting show

On 17th January 2021, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) warned privately-owned radio station Radio Bushrod (D-15 FM) not to broadcast the 'Costa Show' by radio host Henry P. Costa, who resides in the United States, claiming that Costa is a 'fugitive' from justice and 'cannot host radio programmes meant to communicate to a Liberian audience while in the United States'. It further threatened to revoke the licences and permits of 'any station, including D15, which continues on this path in utter violation of the laws of Liberia'. In a statement, the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP) said this was the third action by the Weah administration to shut down Costa, who is considered as a government critic, and that Costa has yet to be charged with a crime in any court. As reported previously on the Monitor, Costa's Roots FM was shut down on 10th October 2019 reportedly for having broadcast on a frequency for which the station had no licence, and for inciting violence. Roots FM was attacked and vandalised on two occasions in 2019 prior to its shutdown.