LIBERIA: Supreme Court Orders Reopening Of The National Chronicle Newspaper, Describing Its Closure As “Pointless”

The Supreme of Court of Liberia late yesterday evening, August 8, 2015 has ordered the reopening of the National Chronicle newspaper which was shut down last year, August 14, 2014 by several officers of the Liberia National Police who barricaded the offices of the newspaper on Carey Street in pursuit of the paper’s Managing Editor, Philipbert Browne.

The full bench of Supreme Court of Liberia following months probing into the matter which led to the abrupt closure of the paper by the Liberian Government through the Liberia National Police said it sees no reason why the National Chronicle Newspaper should remain closed, and therefore ordered that the Liberian Government should with ‘immediate effect’ order its reopening.

The over 100 Scores of police officers of the Police Support Unit (PSU) on that late evening placed a blockade at the entrance of the media house, warning users to “keep off or remain in their respective positions until the police operation is over.”

At that time eye witnesses told reporters that the police arrived on Carey Street opposite the Civil Service Agency around 6:15 p.m. demanding access to the paper’s offices, but were denied.

“We saw the police moving in towards the newspaper shouting, ‘no one should move in there!’ They went up the stairs attempting to break into the building but could not because the newspaper workers had locked their iron gate from inside upon receiving the news of the police operation.

“The police attempted shooting teargas from the onset but I don’t know as to whether that was done. We heard them (police) hitting the paper’s iron gate, a situation that created heavy noise and panic in the minds of many around the area,” an eyewitness, who did not give his name, asserted.

One police truck, two pickups, and dozens of police officers blocked both entrances of the street, forcing a gathering of a huge crowd in support of the paper’s publisher, whose publications are often harshly critical of the government.

Mr. Saye Messah, a reporter at The Chronicle, said police broke into their offices with weapons and demanded that all employees turn in their laptops and other devices.

“We didn’t come to harm you people. We only came to close down the paper; and if you corporate, no one will harm you people,” Saye quoted police as having said.

During that period, he explained, Browne and other employees were allowed to walk out of their office based on the intervention of Montserrado County Representative Solomon George.

“We came out and walked towards the Heritage Newspaper offices up on Carey and Broad Streets. As we were walking, the police followed us and shot teargas canisters amongst us. We were terrified and fought for survival. Unfortunately, two of our colleagues Emmanuel Messah, editor, and Emmanuel Logan, web designer, were arrested and taken to an unknown destination. As we speak, we don’t know their whereabouts.”

The incident created panic among many citizens in central Monrovia forcing very early exits from the streets, which had already become virtually empty since President Sirleaf declared the State of Emergency last week Wednesday.

Rumors spread fast across the city that guns were being fired in the city. This situation caused serious fear in the minds of citizens already panicking from the then spread of the deadly Ebola virus backed by the “State of Emergency” imposed by President Sirleaf.

For its part, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) that evening in a statement said it was disappointed and disgusted by the forceful and illegal closure of the National Chronicle Newspaper and the arrest of several staff of the paper including News Editor Emmanuel Mensah and IT Officer Emmanuel Logan, and the manhandling of Philibert S. Browne.

“The Press Union sees these actions as a further expression of intolerance and an unwarranted attack on the free press, and calls upon President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to immediately denounce this action, release the staff and reopen the National Chronicle,” the PUL said its statement.

The Union’s president, Abdullai Kamara, said this action, which is yet to be explained from the highest level of the Liberia National Police, “strengthens the distrust between the government and the media, undermines the rule of law and lays to waste the fruitful collaboration that has existed in the fight against the ebola virus.

The Union is calling all of its members to a mass emergency meeting at 12 noon today, Friday, August 15, at its headquarters on Clay Street to chart further options,

Giving reason for the closure of the paper at that time in a communication to the Publisher of the paper, Philipbert Browne, dated August 16, 2014, the Ministry said Government’s action was prompted by the many publications by the Chronicle Newspaper that border on national security.

In the communication, the Ministry said, “The national security apparatus including the Liberia National Police has drawn the urgent attention of the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism to ongoing investigations necessitated by at least no publications of the National Chronicle Newspaper in which it is claimed that the democratic order and consolidation processes of the country are being torpedoed and reversed by means not provided for by the Liberian Constitution in the summary replacement of the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by a transitional administration.

“The National Chronicle also claims that these unconstitutional maneuvers have the backing and support of a friendly government with which the Liberian Government and people have long-standing and ongoing excellent relations. Subsequently, you have indicated on at least two radio stations including the National Broadcaster and UNMIL radio that you possess evidentiary support for these grave charges,” the communication among other things concluded.

Now the highest court of the land has ordered the reopening of the paper’s offices. Observers hoped this order will be adhered to by the executive to reopening the paper offices.

Currently the management of the National Chronicle has established another newspaper styled and named Hot Pepper, again the executive branch through the Ministry of Information is unease of the paper’s articles since its appearing on the newsstand nearly a month now.

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