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CEMESP launches legal defense programme for journalists

(CEMESP/IFEX) - Monrovia, August 8, 2011 - The Center for Media Studies & Peace Building (CEMESP) has launched a Legal Defense Fund to provide support for Liberian journalists threatened by lawsuits.

The program, funded by the UK-based Media Legal Defense Initiative, seeks to provide legal support to journalists who are threatened with legal action on account of their work, and grows out of CEMESP's perennial advocacy for the right to free expression, and to serve as a platform to support such rights.

According to CEMESP's Executive Director, Malcolm Joseph, the project grew out of the organisation's catalogue of several cases brought against journalists in connection with their work.

Prior to the launch of this project, CEMESP has annually reported on cases of assaults on journalists with no responses from the authorities. There have also been several cases in which journalists and media institutions have been brought to court, more as a means of harassing them, than as a means of getting justice. There have also been instances where extrajudicial actions have been taken to prevent the media from carrying out its work.

"Most of these cases are basically harassment to prevent them from freely expressing themselves, and this initiative is an opportunity to encourage journalists to enjoy their right to free expression," Joseph said. "With this understanding, we have a guarantee that journalists will be free in bringing out news and information that should necessarily promote democracy, transparency and accountability in Liberia, without fear of undue retribution."

According to Joseph, the project will also provide support to stem extrajudicial actions taken against journalists in the line of their duties.

In ensuring that the outcome of this arrangement is successful, CEMESP has entered into an agreement with Verdier and Associates Law Office to represent journalists in cases filed against them. Verdier and Associates is managed by Cllr. Jerome Verdier, chairman of the former Truth & Reconciliation Commission in Liberia. Before chairing the TRC, Cllr. Verdier was fundamental in helping to advise media groups ahead of the media law reform process. Verdier and Associates will collaborate with Cllrs. Syrenius Cephas and Sylvester Rennie in providing legal services for journalists and media institutions in Liberia.

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