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Liberia9 March 2005

Court closes newspaper and issues arrests warrants for staff for "contempt"

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the "disproportionate" measures taken on 4 March by a Monrovia court, which closed the offices of a privately-owned weekly, the Forum Newspaper, until it paid a fine of 200 US dollars and ordered the arrest of its managing editor and other editorial staff for "contempt of court" on the grounds that they ignored several summonses.

"Closing a newspaper and issuing warrants for the arrest of all its journalists are serious actions that are clearly out of all proportion in a libel case," the press freedom organization said. "The premises of the Forum Newspaper must be reopened unconditionally, and the arrest warrants must be withdrawn. The Liberian courts should abstain from such dramatic action, especially in an election period, as it deserves universal disapproval."

Reached by telephone, Forum Newspaper managing editor Augustus Fallah told Reporters Without Borders he never received any summons and regarded the court’s decision as "politically motivated." He said he was trying to raise the sum needed for the reopening of the newspaper’s premises and that the staff were meanwhile working at home. They were able to bring out the 8 March issue as usual.

A libel suit was brought against Forum Newspaper on 5 January by Melee Kermue, a Senate candidate from the center of the country and director of the NGO Hope International for Liberia, over a report headlined "Wanted Hope International Boss Escapes Justice from the US," which claimed that he left the United States as the US authorities were about to bring charges in a drug trafficking case. Kermue is seeking 2 million US dollars in damages.

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