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Ministry of Information halts printing of two newspapers

(CEMESP/IFEX) - The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has reported maneuvers by the country's Ministry of Information to prevent the printing of "The New Broom" and "The Bi-Lingual" newspapers, describing the government's action as an attack on press freedom and a gross violation of the Liberian Constitution.

In a statement issued on 11 August 2009, the journalists' association reported that it received a letter from the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism ordering a local newspaper printing house, Alley Printing Press not to print "The New Broom" newspaper for allegedly violating the ministry's regulation.

The PUL says the management of another Liberian newspaper, "The Bi-Lingual" has also complained that the ministry has instructed another printing house, the Seamarco Printing Press, not to print their newspaper.

The union, in its statement, observes that the continuous seizure of "The New Broom" and "The Bi-Lingual" newspapers without judicial action contradicts the government's much-professed commitment to press freedom.

"The latest maneuver by the ministry to get at the media is reminiscent of the repressive tendencies of past regimes which shut down media institutions and altered newspaper headlines, not via judicial process but by and through the Sabana Printing Press, the only newspaper printing house in the country at the time," the PUL asserts.

"PUL recalls the police action taken against the 'Independent Newspaper' three years ago on the orders of Information Minister Laurence Bropleh and urges an end to these arbitrary actions."

The union says it is a sad mistake for the government to perpetrate such dangerous maneuvers against the media and particularly calls on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to reverse the decision of the Ministry of Information, adding, "The media should not operate at the mercy of the Ministry of Information."

The PUL says that while it will always insist on the development of a professional media, particularly when any institution falls short of ethical standards, the place to hold them accountable is in the court of law as enshrined in Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution and not through extra-judicial means.

Though incidents of arbitrary imprisonments of journalists are rare under the Sirleaf-led government, attacks and other arbitrary actions are akin to its predecessors.

A Liberian freedom of expression organization and media watchdog group, the Center for Media Studies and Peace-Building (CEMESP), annually reports dozens of attacks and abuses against journalists.

In its 2007 and 2009 reports, the international human rights think tank, Freedom House, also listed Liberia amongst countries recorded to have the worst free expression credentials.

In its 2006-2007 report, "Perennial Tragedy of Democracy: Attacks on Free Expression in Liberia", CEMESP unveiled an avalanche of repressive actions against the Liberian media.

The repressive actions included brutal attacks, scare tactics, harassment and intimation of journalists perpetrated by state security personnel and top government officials.

A subsequent research report by the CEMESP released in January 2009, "The Triumph of Impunity: Attacks on Free Expression in Liberia", catalogued several other physical and psychological crackdowns clearly akin to the True Whig Party, Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor regimes.

CEMESP has meanwhile joined the Press Union of Liberia in calling for the unconditional lifting of the ban imposed on "The New Broom" and "The Bi-Lingual" newspapers by the Ministry of Information.

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