The managers of four pro-opposition broadcast stations in Liberia are due in court Thursday following a petition by the Ministries of Justice and Information accusing them of broadcasting hate speech and inciting violence.
The government Monday ordered the closure of two radio stations and two television stations after deadly clashes between opposition supporters and police killed at least two people.
Alexander Bealded, radio director of now-closed KINGS-FM, told VOA the lives of the journalists working at the stations are being threatened.
“The issue of people being put at gunpoint at our institutions is bothering us. Several outlets were shut down in this country and the only outlets that are being heard now on national radio and television are institutions that are very supportive of the government propaganda arm, and we feel very threatened because every night we have to move from one point to the other,” he said.
In a petition to the First Judicial Circuit Criminal Court of Montserrado County, the government said the stations “illegally used their respective media outlets by broadcasting hate messages against the government and deliberately spreading misinformation and messages of violence, and instigating the people to rise up and take to the streets and engage in confrontation with the Liberia National Police and the United Nations security forces.”
Bealded said the closed stations have been objective and credible in their reporting. In addition, he said, if the government had any court order to close the stations, such an order should have been delivered by an officer of the court and not armed police.
“I don’t know what he calls inciting violence. We’ve been very objective, balanced and credible in our reportage. As a matter of fact, if there were a warrant from the court for the closure of our institutions, should it be armed police officers to carry that shut-down warrant? I thought it should be the sheriff of the court,” Bealded said.
He said 10 armed police officers Monday stormed the buildings housing KINGS-FM, CLAR-TV, and CITY-FM, all owned by opposition leader George Weah and held at gunpoint a reporter who was live on the radio, and made him to sign a paper.
“What has happened in this country is the fact that the government does not want to hear independent, objective media institutions speak of the facts that are unfolding in our country,” he said.
Bealded said the management of the closed stations will continue to be law-abiding and show up in court even though he said he knows of no warrant by the police.
In a statement Wednesday, the Press Union of Liberia said the police action and the seizure of the three media institutions are simply an attempt to silence dissent and force the media into submission. It described the court order as a cover up.