Press freedom violations in the run-up to elections
BREAKING: Liberian President George Weah Concedes Poll Defeat To Ex-VP Boakai— Channels Television (@channelstv) November 18, 2023
Liberian leader and football legend George Weah conceded defeat to opposition leader Joseph Boakai after a tight presidential run-off, saying it was “time to put national interest above personal… pic.twitter.com/EEpl1pwzNe
Elections: incumbent president George Weah concedes poll defeat
On 10th October 2023, presidential and legislative elections were held in Liberia amid growing anger about corruption and the cost of living, with incumbent President George Weah seeking a second term. Following a run-off vote on 14th November 2023, George Weah conceded defeat to former vice-president Joseph Boakai, who won with 50.64% of the vote, setting the stage for a peaceful transition. This will be Liberia’s second democratic transition.
President-elect Boakai cancelled the victory celebrations after a car rammed into a crowd celebrating outside the headquarters of the Unity Party (UP), Boakai’s political party, killing at least two people and injuring dozens of others.
Prior to the elections, on 10th August 2023, at least two people were killed and dozens injured in violent clashes between the then ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the opposition Unity Party (UP) in Fofa, Lofa County. This and other reported incidents of electoral violence, and eight incidents of attacks against journalists, prompted the United Nations Human Rights Office to issue a statement.
#Liberia 🇱🇷 : The authorities authorized on 23/08 the reopening of the premises of Spoon Network, the country's largest independent press group. RSF welcomes this decision and recalls that the initial order, which led to the closure of the offices for 40 days, was abusive. https://t.co/VyaOkUMUol— RSF (@RSF_inter) August 23, 2023
Independent media network ordered to close following defamation suit
On 14th July 2023, dozens of court officers arrived at the offices of Spoon Communication Network, Liberia’s largest independent media network, and ordered journalists and other employees to stop working under an order issued by the Montserrado County civil law court, effectively closing Spoon Communication Network.
The court order was issued in response to a defamation suit brought by Wilmot Smith, the former Director General of the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Service (LISGIS) over Spoon Communication Network’s coverage of corruption allegations made by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) against Smith and other government officials.
Furthermore, on 17th July 2023, the judge issued a summons on the network’s management and 19 of its staff members, over alleged insults and attacks against the court officers when they carried out the court order on 14th July 2023. The following day, on 18th July 2023, the Montserrado civil law court imposed fines ranging from 300 to 1,000 USD for contempt of court.
On 23rd August 2023, after 40 days of closure, the court ordered the re-opening of Spoon Communication Network’s offices.
According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), prior to this incident, in June 2023, the Council of Patriots, a group that supports the then ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), requested the government to shut down Spoon Communication Network immediately for “airing misinformation”, and threatened to do it themselves if the government failed to close the media network.
On June 6, 2023, Hanson Kaizolu, a member of #Liberia’s opposition Unity Party, ordered his bodyguards to “flog” and “beat up” journalist Winston Blyden after he covered daily legislative proceedings at the Capitol building in Monrovia. https://t.co/oYZP896MHJ— CPJ Africa (@CPJAfrica) June 27, 2023
On 8th August 2023, an unidentified soldier from neighbouring Sierra Leone reportedly attacked journalist Joseph Tumbey while he was covering the arrest of former Sierra Leone Police Chief Mohammed Turay, who is accused of involvement in a coup plot against the Bio-administration in Sierra Leone, at the police headquarters in Monrovia. The journalist, who works for New Democrat Newspaper and the online Afric Daily Newspaper, said the soldier assaulted him in an attempt to seize his equipment, damaging his phone. The journalist was reportedly taking pictures when the attack happened.
On 6th June 2023, producer and director of Bana FM, Winston Blyden, was assaulted by bodyguards for member of the then opposition Unity Party, Hanson Kaizolu, after he covered daily legislative proceedings at the Capitol building in Monrovia. The bodyguards hit and punched the journalist’s head and body, tore his shirt and seized his mobile phone and cash, reportedly after Kaizolu ordered his bodyguards to “flog” and “beat up” the journalist. Kaizolu reportedly accused Blyden of repeatedly “bad-mouthing” him and other members of Unity Party, while broadcasting media programmes favourable to the then ruling CDC.
#Liberia 🇱🇷 : Around 100 armed individuals stormed the New Dawn newspaper’s headquarters in Monrovia on 18 October. RSF calls for an investigation and for Liberia’s leading privately-owned newspaper to be given police protection. 👇https://t.co/cgVxCwUGrr pic.twitter.com/BQRdY7YFzu— RSF (@RSF_inter) October 25, 2023
Newspaper offices attacked
In the early hours of 18th October 2023, around 100 individuals armed with machetes, knives and clubs, stormed the offices of leading newspaper New Dawn when the night shift was overseeing the printing of the newspaper. The assailants took equipment and phones and beat up two employees. According to RSF, the newspaper filed a complaint, but no investigation had yet been carried out. The newspaper requested police protection following the attack.
Media outlet summoned by court over report alleging corruption in judiciary
On 31st May 2023, Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court C summoned the management and entire staff of newspaper FrontPageAfrica to appear in court on 13th June 2023 to defend a report, published in the newspaper on 19th May, quoting anonymous sources alleging bribery within the judiciary in the acquittal of four men charged with drug trafficking. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the summons said that the newspaper’s management and “all persons acting under the scope and authority” of FrontPageAfrica must explain why they should not be held in criminal contempt and provide evidence of the bribery.