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Information minister threatens to close media outlets, punish others for playing "vulgar music"

(CEMESP/IFEX) - CEMESP is appalled by repeated threats by the Minister of Information, Rev. Laurence Bropleh, to shut down legitimately registered media houses on account of their non payment of taxes and the type of music they play.

This development is reminiscent of the so called dictatorial regime of Charles Taylor and must be challenged and stopped.

At a recent press conference, Bropleh reported that some 23 media houses are delinquent in the payment of taxes and regulatory fees for 2007, for which he will order their closure. He made similar threats in 2007.

At the same meeting, Bropleh also threatened "tough actions" against radio stations that play what he referred to as "vulgar music," arguing that such music is not good for Liberian society.

In early 2007, Bropleh shut down the "Independent" newspaper in contravention of a court order (see IFEX alerts of 4 June, 4 April, 28, 21 and 8 March, 28 and 22 February 2007), even though Article 20 of the Liberian Constitution dictates that "no person shall be deprived of . . . privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law."

CEMESP notes that these threats are unlawful and undermine the health of Liberian democracy. Bropleh must accept that other Liberians have a fundamental freedom of choice, which includes the right to disagree, or to think otherwise in determining what is good for them to say or to listen to.

CEMESP agrees absolutely that individuals and business entities must pay taxes on the income that they earn. The non payment of taxes violates the law, and those culpable must face the consequences. CEMESP notes, however, that the Finance Ministry has clear procedures, grounded in law, for the collection of delinquent taxes, and any attempt by Bropleh to enter this jurisdiction would be illegal and overzealous; his threats to shut media outlets down would simply deprive the media of their constitutionally guaranteed right to freely express themselves.

CEMESP is concerned that Bropleh's decision to single out media organisations in his "tax payment vendetta" manifests his frustration with and incapacity to handle government media relations. It is also a blatant reminder of the "hut tax" regime of the past, through which poor, underrepresented citizens, upon whose dispossession the "rich property owners" in Monrovia and elsewhere lived, were targeted for humiliation in the name of tax collection.

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