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At least one journalist or media worker has been attacked every two weeks since April 2006 in Liberia, says a new report by IFEX member the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP). And while the government is behind most of the attacks, a surprising number came from civil society activists, says CEMESP.

In "The Perennial Tragedy of Democracy", CEMESP catalogues the threats, brutality and censorship media practitioners and others faced from April 2006 to the end of 2007, and discovered that most attacks came from government officials.

"It is quite ironic that the United States would be projecting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as an unhindered fighter for freedom, while state security and officials regularly brutalise the simple messengers in their search to inform the public about happenings in our society," said CEMESP executive director Malcolm Joseph at the report's launch.

Case in point - earlier this month, Liberia's Information Minister threatened to shut down media houses that did not pay their taxes. While CEMESP believes that measures should be taken, closing down a newspaper is not "in keeping with due process" and resembled the tactics of former dictator Charles Taylor.

CEMESP's report also details numerous instances where civil society activists and fellow journalists harassed the press. In December 2007, for example, a media executive accused six editors of libel after they had called on the union to investigate comments he had made on his radio show justifying police attacks on journalists.

Incidents like these lead to an apathetic population who "remains largely intolerant and ignorant of the law and the universally guaranteed right to freedom of expression," says CEMESP. The organisation hopes its catalogue of attacks will rectify this situation by increasing public understanding of free expression and promoting people's resolve to stand against those who resent it.

Read "The Perennial Tragedy of Democracy" here:

For hard copies, email: centerforpeacebuilding(@)yahoo(.)com or phone: +231 651 4357

(29 January 2008)

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