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Liberia: Offices of independent newspaper shut down, staff arbitrarily arrested

On 14 August, Liberia National Police officers barricaded and fired teargas into the offices of Liberia's independent newspaper, The National Chronicle. Among those in the barricaded and tear-gassed offices were the paper's publisher, Philibert Browne and his staff. Two members of the paper's staff, editor Emmanuel Mensah and information technology officer Emmanuel Logan were later arrested and briefly taken into police custody, after the police had managed to break into the paper's offices.

Mensah and Logan were later released following the intervention of the Press Union of Liberia. Earlier on, Mr. Philibert Browne had resisted his own arrest on the grounds that the police did not provide him with a warrant for his arrest of the arrest of his staff.

The arrests and subsequent shutting down of The National Chronicle's offices occurred barely three days after the police arrested and detained journalist Henry Karmo when he tried photographing a demonstration by citizens against the state of emergency declared by the president, during the Ebola crisis.

The reason for the arrests and closure is yet to be known. Mr. Browne had recently published a story revealing plans for the formation of an interim government to replace the Sirleaf administration. It also reported that "One of President Sirleaf's contiguous friends, billionaire George Soros, complained about the huge sums of money brought into Liberia but which ends up in the accounts of government officials, while the Liberian people live in a state of desperation."

Responding to the issue, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) condemned the attack on the media house its staff. In a statement, Mr. Abdullai Kamara, president of the PUL, said that the PUL “is disappointed and disgusted” by the forced and illegal closure of the National Chronicle newspaper and the arrest of several staff of the paper, including news editor Emmanuel Mensah and IT Officer Emmanuel Logan and the manhandling of Philibert S. Browne, Jr.”

The release further stated that the action of the government – which is yet to be explained from the highest level of the police – “strengthens the distrust between the government and the media, undermines the rule of law and lays to waste the fruitful collaboration that has existed in the fight against the Ebola virus.”

Further commenting on the matter, Mr. Malcolm Joseph has condemned, in the strongest terms, the action of the government through the National Police. Mr. Joseph said that the actions exhibited by the police shows an expression of intolerance and an unnecessary attack on the free press. He also said the government – which has gained so much fame because of press freedom – must openly denounce the attack on Mr. Browne and his team and immediately secure the reopening of the news entity.

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