Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson may be the flavour of the month in the international community after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October. But her government’s handling of dissenting voices during Liberia’s election period has been far from peaceful.
In the run-up to Liberia’s runoff presidential elections on Tuesday, the government shut down several pro-opposition broadcasters in Monrovia. Love FM/TV, Power FM/TV, Kings FM/Clar TV and Shiata FM were all visited by armed policemen on Monday evening, and ordered to cease broadcasting. As well as more conventional weapons, the police were armed with a court writ, and government orders to close the stations.
The crackdown comes after the stations’ coverage of an opposition rally on Monday, which saw at least one person killed when police turned to violence to break up the protest. In its application for the court order, the government stated the stations had “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 UN security forces”.
All Africa quoted Love FM/TV consultant and African Election Project official Jallah Grayfield’s views on the government’s heavy-handed action: “What is happening is worrying and does not augur well for our thriving democracy,” Grayfield said. “What is democracy when the opposition views are not heard and there is no freedom of expression?”
But the government defended its approach. “This was not a unilateral decision, as was done in times past when previous governments unilaterally shut down media institutions,” said deputy information minister Noah Tweah. “This action has the backing of the law.” The managers of the affected stations are set to appear in court on Thursday to argue their case.
Free African Media: Liberia silences opposition broadcasters