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Journalists forcibly removed from House Chamber, equipment seized

(CEMESP/IFEX) - On 31 May 2011, House Speaker Alex Tyler ordered the seizure of cameras belonging to two reporters assigned to the House of Representatives. Journalists Boima J.V. Boima of the "New Democrat" newspaper and Roland Perry of the "Informer" newspaper were wrestled to the ground by the sergeants-at-arms assigned to the Capitol building. The officers seized the reporters' equipment and later threw them out of the Chamber upon Tyler's instructions.

The incident occurred after a member of the House, Matthew Darblo, accused Perry of taking his photo without his permission. The journalist responded that it was his right to take photos of any lawmaker in a public place and that his action had not violated Darblo's rights in any way. Perry refused to hand over his camera as requested by Tyler.

Apparently annoyed by Perry's response, the Speaker then issued an order for the journalist to be removed from the Chamber and have his camera seized in order to ensure that the photo was deleted.

Three security officers approached Perry and started to rough him up. According to the reporter, his bag, containing a laptop computer, digital recorder and some significant documents, went missing while he was being manhandled by the officers.

As for Boima, whose only crime was to use his camera to capture how his colleague was being manhandled by the officers, he soon became the next target as the Speaker unleashed the same officers on him, taking away his camera as well.

The journalists informed CEMESP that several lawmakers who witnessed the incident applauded the Speaker and the officers for treating the journalists in such a manner. The leadership of the Legislative Press Poll (LISGISPOLL) condemned the Speaker's action and imposed a news blackout on deliberations and proceedings at the House of Representatives.

The group's President, Julius Kanuba, took the decision following a vote by member journalists on the matter. Kanuba asked all journalists covering the Capitol building to refrain from reporting on events at the House until the Speaker issues a written apology to the journalists. He told the reporters that a communication would be sent to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) to register their displeasure over the action of the Speaker and his military officers.

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