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Crackdown on media signals further repression of human rights defenders

The Government of Liberia, in its statement yesterday, accused 'agents provocateurs' of using radio stations to create security problems. Police officers have apparently sealed off the Star Radio station, which had broadcast on 13 March an item about the United States State Department Human Rights Report on Liberia. International journalists reported that police -- led by Police Director Paul Mulbah -- allegedly ill-treated staff at Star Radio and Radio Veritas when they forcibly evicted the employees and seized communications equipment.

In Wednesday's government announcement, the Liberian authorities claimed the closure of Star Radio and Radio Veritas was not 'to hinder freedom of speech and of the press, but to ensure peace, stability and security throughout the country'. Over the past two years the government had imposed a ban on Star Radio broadcasting to the countryside, limiting its listening audience only to Monrovia and its surrounding suburbs.

'The Liberian authorities must respect the rights of human rights defenders -- including journalists -- to exercise their right to freedom of expression.'

In a previous attack on human rights defenders, the Liberian authorities have charged child rights activist James Torh with sedition following his speech critical of the government at a high school in December 1999. James Torh, the executive director of Forerunners of Universal Rights for Growth and Development (FOCUS), was arrested on 15

December 1999 in the capital, Monrovia, and is currently on trial. If convicted, he will face up to five years in prison. Amnesty International believes his arrest is an attempt by the government to silence its critics and would consider him a prisoner of conscience if he was imprisoned.

'Far from creating stability and security,' Amnesty International concluded, 'This latest move signals the further erosion of non-violent civil and political expression in Liberia, and the reports of ill-treatment and possible imprisonment of James Torh heightens our concerns.'

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