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Judge threatens journalists with contempt charges, jail over coverage

(CEMESP/IFEX) - On 22 October 2007, Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis threatened to imprison journalists for committing such "infractions" as "misspelling his name", "giving him wrong and inappropriate titles" and "attaching his photos to stories that have nothing to do with him in their papers."

Lewis made the threats in open court, with the heads of several newspapers in attendance by invitation. The session was also attended by other members of the Supreme Court.

Lewis warned the journalists that his invitation to that meeting was their "last chance" and called on them to desist or be charged with contempt, punishable by 30 days' imprisonment.

He reminded those present that, although the Liberian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, it also requires journalists to be responsible. Lewis added that "maybe after spending 30 days at South Beach [prison] they would become responsible journalists."

At the meeting, the Chief Justice asked the clerk to give each of the journalists a sheet of paper, upon which he asked them to write out his full name and title.

CEMESP views the comments by the Chief Justice as yet another attempt by government officials to unduly restrain journalists in the course of their work of informing the public, and to limit their exercise of the universally and constitutionally-guaranteed right to free expression.

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