CJFE welcomes the ruling from Liberia’s Supreme Court ordering the reopening of the country’s National Chronicle newspaper, with immediate effect. The publication was forcibly closed by the Liberian government on August 14, 2014, following a warrantless raid on its offices during which police released tear gas, beat three of the newspaper’s journalists and detained one overnight.
The raid and closure of the National Chronicle stemmed from a series of reports which alleged that a group of Liberians, with U.S. government support, were planning to form a new government following accusations of corruption and misrule by the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Against the backdrop of the country’s Ebola outbreak the Chronicle was prevented from reopening as an “administrative action,” despite the fact that security officials completed an investigation into the publication and declined to file any charges shortly after the initial raid. The favourable ruling for theNational Chronicle, handed down on August 7, 2015, marks a positive step towards reopening a space for critical reporting in Liberia following a fierce government crackdown on the media during the Ebola epidemic.
The Liberian government had argued that the protracted closure of the Chronicle was necessary for security reasons to preserve national unity during the country’s state of emergency. However, with the state of emergency long since expired, the Supreme Court ruled that the continued closure of theChronicle “long after the state of emergency is a violation of the [journalists’] rights not supported by the laws.”
While CJFE celebrates the reopening of the National Chronicle, the fact remains that the newspaper should never have been closed in the first place; its extensive, arbitrary closure and the assault of several journalists by police officers represents a severe violation of free expression rights in Liberia. CJFE urges the Liberian government to take concrete steps to improve protections for press freedom in the country, particularly in times of crisis when reporting in the public interest is of the utmost importance.
This letter of concern was sent to His Excellency Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Liberia to the United States of America; the Ambassador has concurrent accreditation to Canada.
Cc: Ms. Chantal de Varennes, Ambassador of Canada to the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire and to the Republic of Liberia;
The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs