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US Concerned Regarding Whereabouts of Liberian Journalist - 2002-07-08

The U.S. State Department has joined international human rights groups in expressing concern over the fate of a Liberian newspaper editor who has not been heard from since his arrest by government security forces two weeks ago. The journalist, Hassan Bility, has been a critic of the government of Liberian President Charles Taylor.

The State Department says the United States shares the concerns of Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and other groups about the physical safety of Mr. Bility, the editor of the independent Liberian newspaper, The Analyst, who was arrested along with two associates June 24.

Mr. Bility had been detained and questioned twice before in the past year and his newspaper closed down on two occasions for publishing articles critical of the Taylor government, and he had reportedly received a death threat from an officer of the national police in May.

In the latest incident, Mr. Bility and his associates were said to have been taken away by plainclothes police, with the government's information minister Reginald Goodridge later announcing that the three men were being held on suspicion of operating what he termed a "terrorist cell" of the dissident group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.

However, according to Amnesty International, the government last week failed to produce the detained men after local human rights groups obtained a court order that they be accounted for, and state security agencies have since denied that they are in their custody.

Amnesty said that, given the Liberian government's record of torture and cruel treatment of detained human rights defenders and its past record with regard to Mr. Bility, it is "seriously concerned" that the failure to account for the three men means they have been severely tortured or killed.

In a written statement to reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher echoed the concerns of Amnesty International in the Bility case. He condemned what he said was the Liberian government's failure to follow the rule of law, and urged it to comply with the court order to produce the detained men.

Mr. Boucher urged Liberian authorities to adhere to their professed interest in national reconciliation, protection of human rights and freedom of expression through elections promised next year.

He said the United States calls on Monrovia government to create the conditions where true peace and national reconciliation can occur by "encouraging, rather than banning, peaceful political expression and activity, and by lifting the current state of emergency."