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Newspaper publisher and printer detained by state security, released

(CEMESP/IFEX) - Cyrenus Cephas, an attorney and the publisher of "Plain Truth" newspaper, was detained and questioned by the National Security Agency (NSA) in connection with a story published in the paper's 9 December 2009 edition. The story's headline had suggested that the Liberian government was supplying arms and ammunition to Guinean dissident groups in their bid to overthrow the military junta in Guinea.

On 11 December, Justice Minister Christiana Tah told a news conference that state security had "invited" Cephas for questioning to gather more information on the alleged smuggling of arms to Guinea.

Cephas was escorted to the NSA headquarters on 14 December by the president of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Peter Quaqua, and other Liberian media executives. He was interrogated by NSA officers and released from detention on 15 December after spending over 24 hours behind bars.

Cephas, who may face charges of sedition or treason, described his condition while in jail as "deplorable". He claims that he was stripped of his clothes and shoes and held naked against his will.

The "Plain Truth" publisher also said that his detention order was on instruction of "the powers that be", following his failure to respond to questions from NSA investigators regarding Liberia-Guinea relations and historical relations between Liberian and Guinean citizens. Cephas said that when he responded that he was not a student of history, NSA head Fumba Sirleaf, who is also the president's son, ordered him placed behind bars.

Michael Mankine, the manager of Seamarco printing press, which prints the "Plain Truth", was also arrested on 11 December in connection with the same story. He was held by the NSA and released by the Ministry of Justice after three days.

The PUL strongly condemned what appears to be a policy of intimidation by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government, expressed by the harassment of commercial printing houses whenever there is a publication the government deems unfavorable.

In a statement, the PUL said that the NSA's arrest and detention of the owner of Seamarco Printing Press clearly represents a calculated ploy to subject the printer to psychological torture and the rule of fear.

The PUL believes that this kind of anti-media manoeuvring by the government is aimed at pushing printers to begin screening newspaper content before printing and as such is an impediment to press freedom and freedom of expression.

This is the third time the Sirleaf administration has used the NSA and the Ministry of Information to prey on printing houses.

The PUL recalls that four years ago, "The Independent" newspaper reported on a sex scandal involving President Sirleaf's Minister of State, as well as the seizure of the "New Broom" and "Bi-Lingual" newspapers, at which time the printers were inhibited from publishing papers.

CEMESP condemns the detention of Cephas and Mankine and calls on the government to abandon its policy of intimidation.

CEMESP Executive Director Malcolm Joseph also called on the government to accord both Cephas and Mankine due process.

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