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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Liberia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Liberia, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c56540c.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

After more than a dozen peace accords and close to 20 cease-fire agreements, Liberia's devastating seven-year civil war finally ended with a monitored election in July that brought faction leader Charles Taylor and his party, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, into power. The election selected a new president and seated a broadly recognized government for the first time since the assassination of military dictator Samuel K. Doe in 1990 in a war initially launched by Taylor in 1989.

During the transitional government prior to elections, the Liberian police, under commissioner Joe Tate, were responsible for many arbitrary arrests, detentions without charge, and brutality toward the media.

In the volatile atmosphere leading up to Liberia's mid-year presidential elections, powerful business leaders and government officials targeted by investigative reporting used the threat of lawsuits against the media as an effective tool of repression. Journalists found it increasingly difficult to gather information from sources, who would not come forward to produce defense evidence out of fear of the inevitable wrath of factional agents. Without tangible evidence or witnesses to exonerate them before a court of law, many organizations faced the prospect of financial ruin from expensive criminal libel suits. Although many of the threatened suits never materialized, they had their desired effect: self-censorship became common among Liberia's journalists.

In August, the legislature reaffirmed the 1986 constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, as well as fundamental human rights. But journalists fear that the outcome of government discussions in January 1998 to revamp the 1972 media registration law will impose not only annual registration deadlines with the Ministry of Information for all newspapers but also hefty fees and mandatory inspection of media houses as part of the registration process.

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