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The Press is Democracy's Last Hope in Liberia: Mayor Jefferson T.Koijee must not use the Press Union of Liberia (PUL)

for “Pay-to-Repair” – A Letter to PUL President Charles B. Coffey
By Martin K. N. Kollie
Liberia The Press is Democracy's Last Hope in Liberia: Mayor Jefferson T.Koijee must not use the Press Union of Liberia PUL
APR 30, 2022 LISTEN

Dear Mr. Coffey:

Being conscious of Article 20 of the Code of Ethics of the Press Union of Liberia which accentuates a responsible and accountable Press that seeks public interests, I am thrilled to pay homage to all Liberian journalists who continue to serve as guarantors of democracy and guardrails in defense of good governance throughout Liberia.

To you, journalists, whose pens and microphones continue to inspire real CHANGE and rekindle pluralistic democracy in Liberia even at the peril of your lives, I say to you "Kudos and Happy World Press Freedom Day". You are our true heroes and heroines. History has a special place for you because your honest strives are indelibly awe-inspiring.

The American Statesman and Diplomat in Thomas Jefferson was apt in his cogent submission when he averred, “The only security of all is in a free press.”

On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, Liberian journalists will once again assemble in River Gee County to observe this year’s World Press Freedom Day under the global theme “Journalism Under Digital Siege”.

In June 2019 when the Government of Liberia abruptly and unjustifiably shut down the internet in a furtive attempt to disrupt a mass peaceful protest, repress dissent, and foil journalists from accessing the free flow of information, such vile endeavor can be likened to a Digital Siege by a despotic regime.

Mr. Coffey, I have just verified that you have invited Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee to serve as your Keynote Speaker on the occasion marking this year's World Press Freedom Day. This latest decision to prefer a brute as your "guest orator" is not just unthinkable but it heaves or hurls the hard-earned reputation of the Press Union of Liberia into public opprobrium.

Either you have forgotten or you chose to ignore history but let me remind you, Mr. Coffey. In March 2018 under your leadership and signature, you released a dossier in lieu of a press statement titled “Upsurge in Official Intimidation of Journalists in Liberia”.

In this dossier, you vehemently blasted this same Mayor in Jefferson Koijee for his unending attacks on journalists and his vicious attempt to muzzle press freedom. Please follow this link and read some highlights of your own statement: https://newspublictrust.com/liberia-upsurge-in-official-intimidation-of-journalists-says-pul/.

Mr. Coffey, I am constrained to ask this simple question: What has changed in just a few months? Wow. Wow. Wow. So Koijee has now become a “pro-media saint” to address journalists that he once attacked without contrition? This is the same Koijee who attacked FPA editor in April 2018. Mr. Coffey, please read via these two links: http://www.liberianlistener.com/2018/04/05/media-under-assault-in-liberia-koigee-attacks-fpa-editor/ and https://gnnliberia.com/2018/04/05/cdc-govt-launches-attacks-on-the-media-koijee-becomes-the-latest-attacking-fpa-editor/.

Again, I am constrained to ask: What has changed all of a sudden? Mayor Koijee has not just been labeled as a human rights violator but also stamped as a democratic deviant by international human rights organizations including the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Congress, the International Justice Group, etc. Please read these reports that have labelled Jeff Koijee:

1) U.S. State Department: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/313615_LIBERIA-2021-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf

2) U.S Congress through Representative Chris Smith: https://chrissmith.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=406287.

3) International Justice Group: https://www.ijgl.org/impunity-strange-bedfellows/.

If PUL snubs these credible international reports and tolerates a bellicose character like Jefferson Koijee to serve as "keynote speaker" or "guest orator", this could undermine the genial relationship between the PUL and its international partners. How could PUL even think about inviting mayor Koijee as “Guest Speaker”? I am still finding it difficult to fathom this because it appears like a fantasy. The CDC-led Government under Mayor Jeff Koijee has been and remains very repressive against journalists and those perceived as critics.

Mr. Coffey, let me remind you through this chronology of about 70 different attacks on Press Freedom and Journalists in less than five (5) years under the CDC-led Government.

Here is a list of about 70 vicious attacks on journalists:

  1. In September 2020, Jefferson Koijee ordered his gang to brutalize journalist J. Max Bill Diggs of Vision TV right in front of Koijee’s home in Sinkor;
  2. In January 2022, journalist Bettie Johnson Mbayo along with her spouse was ordered beaten by Bong County Representative Marvin Cole;
  3. In February 2020, OK FM journalist Zenu Miller died a few weeks after he was brutalized by State Security;
  4. In October 2020, journalist Chris David of Radio Paraclete was found dead in Bong County with gunshot wounds;
  5. In February 2022, FPA Correspondent Franklin Doloquee was attacked by Nimba County Superintendent Nelson Korquoi. In March 2022, Doloquee was again flogged by supporters of Supt. Korquoi in Gbor Whyeplay Town;
  6. In March 2022, Radio Tamba Tiakor in Lofa County was attacked and burned to ashes by unknown arsonists;
  7. In March 2022, journalists David Nawa and Patrick T. Saah of the Voice of Liberia radio station were attacked by presidential security guards and their equipment were damaged;
  8. In March 2022, a disc jockey of Hott 107.9 FM was arrested and imprisoned by the Director of the Monrovia City Police, Thomas Garwo;
  9. In March 2022, journalist Bobby Marvin Tingban of Hott FM 107.9 was attacked by Prince Smith of the Infinity Millennials Liberia Company;
  10. In February 2022, ELBC Correspondent in River Cess County, Eric Opa Doue, was threatened with dismissal by local county officials;
  11. In March 2022, journalist Rocheford T. Gardiner of Radio Phoenix at the Tubman University in Maryland County was threatened with dismissal by local county authorities;
  12. In December 2020, journalist Dakota Mustapha of Radio Hard Work in Grand Cape Mount County was attacked and injured during a political violence in Porkpar District that was provoked by the supporters of CDC Candidate Victor Watson;
  13. In December 2020, journalist Shammah P. S Dorbor of the United Methodist Radio was attacked in Montserrado County District #9 by NEC Supervisor Lee Johnson;
  14. In December 2020, FPA journalist Edwin Genotrix Genoway was also attacked by some unknown men in District #9;
  15. In December 2020, ELBC journalist Eric Opa Doue of River Cess County was slapped by an officer of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA);
  16. In December 2020, journalist James Suah of the Voice of Grand Kru 98.1 FM was attacked by supporters of Representative Nathaniel N. Bahway and Senator Nimene H. T. Bartekwa. He was also flogged based on their instruction;
  17. In December 2020, reporters Chris Kumeh and Emmanuel C Koffah of Radio Anteehna and the Voice of Grand Kru were seriously flogged with their equipment damaged by supporters of political aspirants Alfred T. Segbe, Nimene H. T. Bartekwa, and Nathaniel N. Bahway;
  18. In December 2020, journalist Obediah Burgess Johnson of FPA was threatened and chased in Brewerville, Montserrado County;
  19. In December 2020, journalist Henscien Dehgar of Truth FM was publicly threatened by one Jeddiah Flahn, Jr., a supporter of CDC Representative Thomas Fallah;
  20. In December 2020, journalist Rita Jlogbe Doue of Lux FM was threatened for her coverage of the 2020 Senatorial Elections;
  21. In February 2019, Liberty Radio in Sinkor was burglarized;
  22. In March 2019, Labor Commissioner Roye Saturdaygar Brown forcibly entered Radio Margibi 103.9 FM and switched the station off;
  23. In March 2019, Joy FM on Newport Street was attacked by unknown men with its transmitter destroyed;
  24. In February 2019, a lawsuit was filed by a government-sponsored business venture (East International) against journalist Abraham Morris of the In-Profile Daily Newspaper;
  25. In January 2020, FPA journalist Christopher Walker was beaten at the SKD sports stadium by officers of the Liberia National Police;
  26. In February 2020, journalist Bryant Duo was attacked by LNP officers at a checkpoint in River Cess County while he was en route to Monrovia from Maryland County;
  27. In February 2020, reporter Josephine Seekey was severely injured by a police office while on a motorbike;
  28. In March 2020, freelancer Kolubah B. Akoi was detained and jailed by the Liberia National Police Criminal Investigation Detachment in Lofa County;
  29. In March 2020, journalist Benjamin Toby was arrested and jailed in Gardnerville;
  30. In February 2020, journalist Methuselah T. Gaye of Farbric Radio 101.1 FM was arrested and detained at the Yarpah Town Police Station in River Cess County;
  31. In February 2020, journalist Kennedy Kolo of the Cyclone Newspaper was also arrested and jailed at the Yarpah Town Police Station;
  32. In March 2020, journalist Kaloko Salam of Maggie Online TV was attacked by an agent of the Executive Protection Service (EPS);
  33. In March 2020, journalist James K. Kadi was attacked and wounded by an officer of the Liberia National Police;
  34. In March 2020, Truth FM reporter Aryee Davies and War Crimes Court advocate Emmanuel Savice were attacked and detained by officers of the Liberia National Police;
  35. In March 2020, journalist Solomon Gaye of the Inquirer Newspaper was arrested by agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA);
  36. In March 2020, journalist Charles B. Yates was arbitrarily cited for questioning by the National Security Agency (NSA);
  37. In March 2020, journalist Frank Payne of Magic FM was flogged by 15 agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on the orders of the acting commander George F. Jackson;
  38. In March 2020, journalist J Cholo Brooks was intimidated and cited by the National Security Agency (NSA) while performing his reportorial duties;
  39. In March 2020, journalist Trojan Molley Kiazolu of Farbric Radio 101.1 FM was attacked by agents of the DEA;
  40. ROOTS FM 102.7 of popular talk-show host Henry P. Costa was shot at and vandalized in January and February 2019 by unknown gunmen believed to have been agents of the CDC-led government;
  41. BBC Journalist, Paye-Layleh Jonathan, fled Liberia after a public attack or outburst on his person by President George M. Weah on March 22, 2018 during the visit of the UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed;
  42. The raid and subsequent closure of FrontPage Africa Newspaper and the subsequent detention of some of its reporters coupled with a US$1.8 million libel lawsuit by a pro-Weah fanatic and a diehard partisan of CDC in April 2018;
  43. In April 2018, Super FV/TV video editor Tyron Brown was found dead in Duport Road, Paynesville City;
  44. In April 2018, Monrovia City Mayor, Jefferson Koijee, launched a blistering attack on FrontPage Africa and its Editor Rodney D. Sieh;
  45. President George M. Weah described his critics and independent media outlets as “ENEMIES OF THE STATE” in June 2018 while on a tour in Bong and Nimba Counties;
  46. In June 2018, the government abruptly suspended all new operational licenses issued to media operators between January – June 2018 as a result of “technical and administrative irregularities”;
  47. The prolonged refusal of GOL to issue operational license to Punch FM 106.7 since June 2018 for fear of its CEO Patrick Honnah, a popular broadcast journalist who has been branded by pro-Weah zealots as anti-government;
  48. The former Deputy Minister of MICAT, Eugene Fahngon, is on record for saying “he hopes that the media in Liberia will remain poor and broke for 12 years”. He arbitrarily ordered the arrest and imprisonment of a Liberian journalist Kelvin Matadi in September 2018;
  49. The strange and total destruction of Daily Talk (a critical blackboard media outlet) after it reported a story captioned “Corruption 2 vs. 0 CDC-led Government” in October 2018;
  50. President Weah is on record for branding journalists as FAKERS and BLACKMAILERS after his return from the UNGA in November 2018;
  51. CDC Youth Chairman Jefferson Koijee led a group of thugs to violently disrupt an opposition campaign in District #13 in November 2018. Journalists were also chased;
  52. The Minister of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), Samuel D. Tweah, publicly threatened to WEAPONIZE against THE MEDIA in December 2018. The establishment of paralleled pro-regime media outlets is an example to reference (e.g. Inquirer Newspaper vs. Independent Inquirer Newspaper);
  53. The former Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, described the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) as ‘USELESS’ in December 2018;
  54. The National Legislature issued an arrest order for Hot Pepper Newspaper Publisher in December 2018 after Philibert Brown blew the whistle about the missing L$16 billion and accused lawmakers of receiving bribe to authorize the printing of L$10 billion;
  55. Journalist Daffae Senkpeni of FPA narrowly escaped death inflamed by political gangs in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County while Journalist Opa Doue was threatened with ‘red card’ by Senator Dallas Gueh for reporting incidents at River Cess County Sitting in December 2018;
  56. Hon Acarous Moses Gray of CDC branded a professional and independent journalist Frank Sainworla as “Anti-Weah” in January 2019 simply because Frank Sainworla expressed his candid opinion on a local radio station (Farbric 101.1) in Monrovia;
  57. The home of a vocal critic of President Weah, Representative Yekeh Kolubah, was fired at by unknown gunmen in January 2019. His children party was disrupted in January 2019 by surrogates loyal to CDC. Heavily armed police officers surrounded his home to forcibly enforce a politically-driven ‘search warrant’ and ‘writ of arrest’ in June 2019. His family was stopped by government from travelling in July 2019 as journalists were prevented from covering this story;
  58. The Minister of State for Presidential Affair, Nathaniel F. McGill, once described THE MEDIA as a ‘criminal enterprise’ in April 2019. He said on a local radio station that “FPA Editor Rodney Sieh will go to jail”;
  59. The host of the popular and critical 50-50 Show on Sky FM, T-Max Jlateh, alarmed over continuous death threats against his life by agents believed to be loyal to the government;
  60. After meeting with Minister Nathaniel F. McGill in an effort to viciously pursue journalists, critical voices, ex-Rebel Generals gave a fierce critic (Representative Yekeh Kolubah) of President Weah a 72-hour ultimatum to turn himself over to their command in April 2019;
  61. The shutting down of the internet especially social media sites during a major protest on June 7, 2019;
  62. Ruling Party Youth Wing Chairman Jefferson T. Koijee threatened to meet peaceful protesters in ‘flesh and blood’ in August 2019;
  63. On Prime FM 105.5 in October 2019, a key figure of the ruling CDC, Representative Acarous Gray, threatened a ‘counter-revolutionary action’ against journalists and opposition politicians in December 30, 2019;
  64. In October 2019, the Government of Liberia through the office of the Solicitor General threatened to arrest popular talk-show host, Henry P. Costa, upon his return to Liberia;
  65. On Tuesday, October 15, 2019, Monrovia became a bloody scene. Hundreds of protesting students from public schools who had gone to demand the payment of their teachers were severely brutalized and tear-gassed along with journalists by police officers and security guards loyal to President Weah– some of the students even fainted and were hospitalized;
  66. An appointee of President George Weah, Deputy Minister for Operations designate, Ministry of Defense, Tarplah Z. Davis alias Zoeley Zoe, publicly threatened on Facebook to kill anti-Weah protesters in October 2019;
  67. In October 2020, the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) harshly imposed a regulatory fee of US$3,300 on media houses in Liberia.

Mr. Coffey, it is important to note that before the CDC-led Government could assume power in 2018, Liberia ranked #89 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. After almost 5 years under this same government with Koijee as the Monrovia City Mayor, Liberia now ranks #98 out of 180 countries. This clearly suggests that press freedom in Liberia has drastically declined by 9 points as a result of these vicious attacks (Reference: https://rsf.org/en/liberia).

Mr. Coffey, there are more of these attacks to reference but let me stop here. The media has been and remains a major target of repression and censorship under the Weah-led hegemony of which Koijee is a leading perpetrators of some of these attacks. So, on what basis are you inviting Koijee to address the assembly of ethical, professional, and independent journalists in Liberia? PUL has to rethink its decision before May 3, 2022.

As an exiled activist and a former student leader whose admiration for the Liberian media remains undeniable. I appreciate the sacrifices and devotion of the media in Liberia. But I would like to beseech you, Mr. Coffey, to take a u-turn or a rowback on this decision. PUL must be different from ULAA. A lot of people are watching to see what happens next. I admonish every Liberian journalist in and out of Liberia to stand up for what is right and prudent amidst incertitude.

The stakes are high and the Press Union of Liberia must not get itself embroiled into what I describe as “Pay-to-Repair-and-Rebrand”. Koijee wants to repair and rebrand his blotched image of brutality and tyranny. The PUL must not and cannot be used as that vehicle for such travesty. Liberian journalists must stand up now in order to salvage PUL’s hard-earned reputation. Koijee is diametrically unqualified to address any democratic forum; let alone the World Press Freedom Day.

Recommendation: Do not invite Mayor Koijee as the Keynote Speaker or Guest Orator on World Press Freedom Day because this could haunt the PUL now and in the future. If Mr. Coffey cannot reverse his decision, I call on all journalists to boycott his pro-CDC and pro-Koijee WPFD celebrations in River Gee County.

Mr. Coffey, I thank you and please extend my utmost regards to all journalists in Liberia. With patriotism and courtesy, I remain in pursuit of a free and an independent PRESS.

Signed: Martin K. N. Kollie

Exiled Liberian activist

[email protected]

Cc: Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA)

Reporter Association of Liberia (RAJ)

Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL)

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